History ~ The Hurricane of 1938

As the mid-Atlantic and New England batten down for a possible pounding by Hurricane Earl, many local media outlets are looking back at the unnamed hurricane of 1938 that devastated Rhode Island. Earl isn't expected to be as severe. Its worst-case scenario, according to ABC6 forecaster Fred Campagna, is closer to that of Hurricane Edna in 1954.

The 1938 storm, which came to be known as the "Long Island Express" because of the track it took through Long Island, New York, and the speed with which it moved, would be ranked as a Category 3 hurricane by today's standards. Winds were 120-125 mph. The storm surge in Providence was more than 20 feet.

The Loop, including City Hall and the Biltmore, Providence
image: Providence Journal
From Wikipedia: "Many homes and structures along the coast were destroyed as well as many structures inland along the hurricane's path. Entire beach communities on the coast of Rhode Island were obliterated. Napatree Point, a small cape that housed nearly 40 families between the Atlantic Ocean and Little Narragansett Bay just off of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, was completely swept away...The only structures lying directly on the coast that survived the storm were the immense stone mansions in Newport, mostly because the largest mansions were along the Cliff Walk, high above the waves, though several, including The Breakers and Carey Mansion (known at that time as Seaview Terrace) still bear scars from the high winds of the storm."

Many parts of the state sustained significant damage.
image: Rhode Island Historical Society
Rhode Island (unsure of location)
image: Rhode Island Roads
image: msnbc
Watch Hill
image: SoundBounder
image: Ancestry.com
Hurricanes are unusual this far north, although they do happen. In August 2009, surfers reaped the benefits of the remnants of Hurricane Bill, and there wasn't a lot of damage.

Remember, Rhode Islanders had their collective cage rattled earlier this year by severe flooding from storm surge. In fact, the Warwick Mall just reopened a couple of weeks ago. Properties that haven't been fully repaired may be more vulnerable to storm damage.

For now, Rhode Island watches and waits for the capricious hurricane to wind its way northward.


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