Flashback to 1938 - Major hurricane hits New York

Tidal surge from the 1938 hurricane: Image courtesy NOAA/NWS Historic Collection.
Tidal surge from the 1938 hurricane: Image courtesy NOAA/NWS Historic Collection.
Over on our thread about a crazy catfish skull, "brandon" recently left a rather off topic, yet still intriguing question:

hi there! i was wondering if there was a hurricane in new york in 1930???????

Why, yes, there was. Technically, it happened in 1938, and it was quite the whopper. On Friday, September 16th, 1938, a Brazilian ship reported a huge storm in the Atlantic and weather forecasters expected it to make landfall near Miami. Luckily for Miami, the storm turned north and everyone expected it to head out to sea. Remember: this was long before satellite images allowed us to track these huge storms in real-time.

Unluckily for people who lived in New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, though, the storm had just temporarily headed out to sea and was about to make landfall in New England. On the 21st, with no warning, one of the fastest-moving hurricanes ever recorded slammed into the New England coast. It caused massive damage in Long Island, giving the storm the name "The Long Island Express." Nearly 600 people died by the time it was all over.

Can you imagine what a storm like that would do to this area today? In 1938, Long Island was still somewhat rural and undeveloped. Today it's a densely-packed urban area full of millions of people, homes, and businesses. And, quite honestly, I hadn't ever even heard of this storm until today. I often think of New York as immune to these sorts of major storms. But it's actually very likely that a major storm will affect this region again in the next 50 years.

1938 Hurricane Links

The Great Hurricane of 1938 - a very in-depth history of the storm.
History Reveals Hurricane Threat to New York City - A modern perspective on the risks to New York city.
The regional perspective on the 1938 hurricane - Lots of great pictures of the destruction in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Do you know anyone who remembers the 1938 hurricane? Do you live in this area and have a hurricane story? Share your stories.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Steve's picture
Steve says:

I could not imagine what a hurricane like that would do to New York today.

I am suprised that I haven't heard more about this, and that the weather channel guys haven't made any movies about it yet.

posted on Thu, 06/21/2007 - 12:48pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

My father has a whole book about the 1938 hurricane and its impact on the Rhode Island town of Westerly. (You can see photos of the aftermath on this website.) When you stand there, on Westerly's beach, and look around, it's pretty amazing to imagine the storm.

(Actually, if you search Amazon.com for books about the 1938 hurricane, a bunch of interesting titles pop up.)

Graphics sprinkled throughout downtown Providence, Rhode Island, talk about the impact of this storm, too. They match historic photos to the sign locations, so as you stand there and look around, you can see how high the water was. Providence now has a giant "hurricane gate" that they can close in the event of another massive storm, in hopes of preventing that kind of damage from happening again.

I grew up on the East Coast and have experienced many, many hurricanes.

In fact, Hurricane Agnes was battering Washington, D.C., on the day I was born. Rock Creek flooded, and my father had to wade through water to reach the hospital.

My family sometimes vacations on North Carolina's Outer Banks. I remember, as a child, driving onto the islands as a hurricane was bearing down. Everyone who was going to evacuate had, but lots of people stayed. Parts of the (single) road had washed out or were flooded over, and I remember my parents trying to decide whether or not to chance driving through an area where the water would have covered the wheels of the car. (We decided to go for it.) When we finally pulled up in front of the beach house, we found other (adult) members of our party drinking margaritas and sitting in the hot tub as the rain poured down and the wind blew like crazy. Decades later, I got to have the sitting-in-the-hot-tub-during-the-hurricane myself, during Hurricane Earl(?) in the summer of 2004.

Every time I go back to the Outer Banks, I'm amazed to see how much the islands have changed. The road has always washed out and been rebuilt, and there are always whole communities that have been abandoned or destroyed. It shouldn't be a surprise, though. The Outer Banks are barrier islands, and they're supposed to change with storms. Owning a house there may be very enjoyable, but it's definitely not property for the long-term!

posted on Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:24pm
Code's picture
Code says:

We better be prepared with the next storms and hurricanes incoming. The hurricane season has already begun and we need to be prepared anytime. It's better if we provide a checklist of things we should prepare and to do.

posted on Thu, 06/21/2007 - 3:26pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

My Grandmother lived in Quogue, which is just past West Hampton Beach on Long Island during this storm. She had many times, recalled her story for me. The devastation was catastrophic and weather conditions absolutely horrific. Every time I do research on this storm, I am completely amazed she made it out alive. I don't know how long it would take this island to recover from another blow like the Long Island Express.

posted on Sun, 09/07/2008 - 10:14pm
Gladys Weinberg post's picture
Gladys Weinberg post says:

Caught in hurricane in 1938...was in school p.s.106', the little yellow wooden school...grades through 1 through 4....we were all evacuated to apartment buildings...on beach 34th street in Far Rockaway. The water came over the boardwalk and flooded the streets....memorable event..We all survived...I was carried home to 2942 Far Rockaway Blvd...by a teenager...the water stopped at the LIRR tracks...my house was dry...

posted on Tue, 12/11/2012 - 10:21pm

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