News

Locals recall the Great New England Hurricane of 1938

LYNN – Arthur Christiansen, who was raised in Swampscott, remembers this day in 1938. Just 8 at the time, he recalls attending a birthday party for his grandmother on Allen Avenue in Lynn.?My uncle rented some cartoon movies and rented a projector. Movies were short silent reels then. He rented the movies for the kids and then the power went out,” Christiansen said.The skies darkened and high winds bore down on the area as what became known as The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 set in, 75 years ago today.There were no movies that day, Christiansen said, but family time by candlelight.Christiansen, who now lives in Marblehead, said he does not recall a lot of people talking about or concerned about the hurricane, but remembers legendary WEEI radio weatherman E.B. Rideout correctly forecasting the intensity of the storm. He also remembers seeing many felled trees along the Swampscott and Lynn coast in the aftermath.?Three or four big maple trees on Oceanview Road in Swampscott went down,” Christiansen said.A weather station in Massachusetts recorded sustained winds of 121 mph and gusts as high as 186 mph – a major storm by modern standards that dwarfs the land wind speeds recorded in storms Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012, which also devastated parts of the Northeast.Also referred to as the Long Island Express and the Yankee Clipper, the Great Hurricane of 1938 caused an estimated $308 million in damage, or the equivalent of $5 billion today.Hundreds were killed – the number varies depending on the source. The National Weather Service attributes 564 deaths to The Great Hurricane, with most of those in Rhode Island.?It was the strongest, the most devastating, the deadliest and the costliest for the region, and still is,” says Lourdes Aviles, a Plymouth State University meteorology professor in Plymouth, N.H., who this month published the book “Taken by Storm, 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane.”The hurricane was the death knell for many mills and factories that had barely survived the Great Depression. It stripped 4 million bushels of apples from orchards, killed livestock and felled millions of trees, according to Aviles? research. Bridges and dams were destroyed, and rail travel was halted for weeks.The storm was notable not only for the death and destruction it spawned, but also the forward speed that gave it one of its nicknames. It hit Long Island, N.Y. and southern Connecticut moving at an amazing 47 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The hurricane had grown to a monster Category 5 for a period over the open ocean in the south Atlantic, and made landfall over Long Island as Category 3.Several members of the Lynn Senior Center on Friday said they also remember the storm.?I was 17 at the time and at my mother-in-law?s house off Western Avenue,” said Lynn resident Candida Arsenault, 91. “I remember playing cards during the storm – poker. The power went out but it was the afternoon so we didn?t need light … Something broke in her den, a window or something, during the storm.”Irene Anastos said she was 16 at the time and lived with her family on Ashland Street in Lynn.?We didn?t have any damage, but there were a lot of trees down,” she said.Frances Roy, a Revere resident today, was a toddler in Hartford, Conn. during the hurricane.?I grew up hearing all the stories about the Connecticut River overflowing,” she said.Aviles, the Plymouth State University meteorologist, said despite the recent woes brought by Sandy and Irene, any similar storm in the future will beset a population that has no appreciation of what a true hurricane is.?No matter what storm you think about in the last century,” she says, “nothing here compares with 1938.”Material from The Associated Press material was used in this report.

More Stories In News