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The Hurricane of '38

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Photo courtesy of Alan and Molly Harwood (David Booth collection) Brewer-Young Mansion/ 734 Longmeadow St in background

In the past, hurricanes were not named like they are now. The United States started naming storms with female names in 1953. As you can imagine, there were many complaints about the system! It was only in 1979 that the U. S. began naming storms with both male and female names. Names were generally re-used, so I am honored to have had storms named after me for both 1956 (category 4!) and 1965. Thankfully Betsy was retired from the hurricane name rotation after 1965.

The so-called 1938 New England Hurricane made landfall on September 21, 1938, as a Category 3 hurricane. Meteorological forecasting was in its infancy, and warnings were incomplete. Forecasters expected the storm to go harmlessly out to sea, with concern only for shipping lanes.

The storm had sustained winds as high as 160 mph and it had a recorded wind gust of 186 mph, the strongest hurricane-related wind gust ever recorded in the US! It killed an estimated 682 people, damaged or destroyed more than 57,000 homes, toppled more than 2 billion trees, and caused an estimated $308 million in damages.

The eye of the storm followed the Connecticut river northward into Massachusetts. In Springfield, the river rose 10 feet above flood stage, and winds and flooding killed 99 people. Flooding washed away the Chicopee Falls Bridge.

Photo from the Meadows, Longmeadow, MA

Photo credit: Longmeadow Historical Society archives

Notice the trolley tracks in the foreground

Longmeadow, like countless other towns in New England, lost many mature trees, especially elms, that used to line the main streets. At a special Town Meeting, held a month after the storm, town voters approved the expenditure of $14,000 for storm-related repairs.

Springfield Republican, September 23, 1938

Contributed by Betsy McKee, Board Member, Longmeadow Historical Society

Originally published September 17, 2020

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