Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sudden Sea

I've just finished an excellent book about the Great Hurricane of 1938, which pounded Long Island and New England 70 years ago (September 21, 1938), resulting in 682 deaths, 1,754 serious injuries, and the loss of many thousands of homes, businesses, fishing boats, farm animals, and vehicles of all kinds. It was the first major hurricane to hit New England since 1869, and it was a monster. Sudden Sea was published in 2003 by R.A. Scotti, a mystery writer and former journalist, and it is a gripping read.

As we know well from Katrina and from other hurricanes and tropical storms in recent times, even with satellite imagery, other modern forecasting techniques, and mass communication, major storms can still cause great damage and loss of life. But in 1938, forecasting methods and resources were very limited. The 1938 storm was tracked by the Weather Bureau, and based on its initial track, Atlantic coastal Florida was warned and some areas were even evacuated. But the storm changed course away from Florida and was predicted to move northeast to the North Atlantic. Instead it moved rapidly along the US East Coast, and hit Long Island and south coastal New England as a category 3 hurricane, completely without warning. People were walking on beaches or sitting in homes near the coast when a wall of water three stories high just showed up. Some towns were literally wiped clean of homes and other structures. Rhode Island was especially hard hit. The water was 17 feet (5 meters) deep in downtown Providence.

Reading this book right now is interesting timing as Hurricane Kyle is moving through our region today. It has apparently bypassed most of New England, although northern Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are on a rare hurricane watch. It's expected to hit near St. John, NB late today at sub-hurricane strength, although they will get a lot of rain and high winds, so there could be some damage and power outages.

I hope for their sake (and mine) that any damage is not too bad, since as it happens, I'll be driving through Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia later this week , staying one night in St. John and then on the NS coast for a few days at a conference. Maybe when Kyle passes it will clear up and we'll even get to see something of the scenic beauty of that area (first time for me).

No comments: