Historical Society hosts talk on the Great New England Hurricane of 1938

Historical Society hosts talk on the Great New England Hurricane of 1938

NEWFANE — On Thursday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m., at Union Hall on West Street, Steve Long will talk about how the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 transformed the region, bringing about social and ecological changes that can still be observed.

Long is the founder of Northern Woodlands magazine and was its editor for 17 years. Copies of his 2016 book, Thirty Eight: The Hurricane that Transformed New England, will be available for purchase.

Today, it seems hard to believe that, with virtually no warning, a massively destructive storm would hit the Northeast. But that's just what happened to the people of New England and Long Island on Sept. 21, 1938.

Long writes that in 1938, not a single living person had ever experienced a hurricane in New England. The previous one had been so long before that people in the Northeast believed that hurricanes happened only down south.

But that afternoon saw the most destructive weather event to ever hit the Northeast, leaving a wide swath of death and destruction that stretched from Long Island Sound all the way to Quebec.

On Long Island and on the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastline, what came to be known as the “Long Island Express” killed hundreds of people and destroyed roads, bridges, dams, and buildings that stood in its path. More than 600 people died from the storm, which also caused $5 billion (in 2018 dollars) of damage.

Not yet spent, the hurricane then raced inland, maintaining 100 mph winds into Vermont and New Hampshire and uprooting more than half a million acres of forest in the space of about five hours.

It knocked down forests in patches large and small across a region totaling 15 million acres. City streets and rural roads were criss-crossed with tangled trunks and limbs, all of which had to be removed by hand with axes and crosscut saws, a task that took years to complete.

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