HURRICANE CAROL

Hurricane Carol - August 31, 1954.

WINDS: 110-mph (moving at 35-mph).
PRESSURE: 28.35 inches/960 mb.
STORM - SURGE: 8 - 13 feet above Mean Tide.

The Edgewood Yacht Club in Rhode Island is submerged by Hurricane Carol's storm surge in 1954. (Photo C. Flagg).

 

Hurricane Carol is the most destructive tropical cyclone to hit the northeast Atlantic states since the 1938 hurricane. With the exception of the 1938 hurricane...Carol is the most destructive hurricane to strike Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern Massachuttes since since the 1869 hurricane. Carol is the last major hurricane (category 3 or greater) to strike Rhode Island or Connecticut. Carol had nearly the same effect in the northeast states as the 1938 hurricane sixteen-years earlier...only the swath of destruction was shifted 50-miles east. This was due to the fact that carol made landfall further east than the 38 hurricane. Thus, western Long Island and western Connecticut experienced little damage from Carol... while the areas from New London, Connecticut to Cape Cod suffered damage nearly as bad as in 1938. To this day (2009)... Hurricane Carol is still considered the most damaging hurricane in Massachusetts history.

Hurricane Carol developed from an area of disturbed weather east of the southern Bahamas on August 25, 1954. The area of disturbed weather quickly became a tropical storm by August 27...and was officially classified as a hurricane while east of Florida late on 27 August. Caught in a weak upper level steering environment... ship reports indicated the storm was drifting slowly just to the north of the Bahamas between August 27 and late on August 29th. Early on August 30th, a deepening trough elongated along the coast from South Carolina to Canadian. The storm quickly became caught in this strong southerly flow and turned northeast with increasing forward speed toward the northeast Atlantic states.

By midnight on August 30th, Carol's western edge was brushing the North Carolina Outer Banks. Forecasters issued hurricane warnings for the North Atlantic States from New Jersey to Maine as Carol swept past Cape Hatteras. Carol's overnight accelration left residents and vacatioers the task of making hasty preperrations for the storm in darkness...adding to the confusion and fear of residents and vacationers. At 8:37 am the next morning (August 31st), Air Force Hurricane Hunters located the center of Carol less than 100-miles south of eastern Long Island. The recon aircraft measured sustinaed winds of 115-mph and a barometeric pressure of 28.37 inches (964-mb) about 40-miles southwest of eye of Carol. Around 9:30 am...Carol made landfall across the twin forks of Long Island, then moved into eastern Connecticut with the "eye" reported over Groton, Connecticut just after 10:00 am. This path put the area from southeastern Connecticut to southeastern Massachusetts ... once again was in the damaging eastern half of a tropical cyclone.

TRACK OF CAROL

Hurricane Carol originated from an area of disturbed weather in the southern Bahamas. Several hurricanes that have struck the northeast Atlantic states have developed in this area - including Hurricane Bob (1991) and Hurricane Belle (1976). (Track NOAA).

 

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS IN THE UNITED STATES

At the time of landfall on far eastern Long Island and the eastern Connecticut coast, the sustained winds in Carol were around 110- mph, with gusts in the 125 to 135-mph range. Like the 1938 hurricane... Carol accelerated northward form Virginia to Long Island. The combination of 110-mph sustained winds and a forward speed of near 40-mph... produced some of the strongest wind gusts ever measured in the North Atlantic states. Montauk Point Lighthouse reported gusts to 120-mph. Along the eastern Connecticut coast, from Saybrook Point to Groton Long Point, wind gusts over 100-mph were reported. Wind gusts of 120 to 135-mph blasted across Southern Rhode Island as the state was hit squarely by the damaging eastern half of the tropical cyclone. The T.F. Green State Airport (near Narragansett Bay, RI) reported sustained winds of 90-mph, with gusts to 115-mph...while Block Island, RI reported sustained winds of 100- mph with a gust to 135-mph.

Carol was a small but intense storm: Most of Long Island and western Connecticut experienced little effects from the storm. The New Haven Airport (along the central Connecticut coast) reported a peak wind gust of only 69-mph. Forty five miles to the east however, where the eye of the tropical cyclone crossed the coast, wind gusts of 110-mph were measured at New London - blowing off a section of the City Hall roof. This was also evident on Long Island, winds west of Fire Island were only 30 to 40-mph, while the Montauk Point Coast Guard Station reported gusts to 120-mph until the wind meter blew away..

Suffolk County Airport on Long Island reported a low pressure of 28.35 inches (960 mb). Although this is the lowest official pressure associated with Carol, the Coast Guard Moorings in Groton, Connecticut, recorded a low pressure of 28.26 inches (957 mb). Recent research by hurricane researchers (Jarvinen-NHC - 2003) have concluded that Carol may have had a landfalling pressure as low as 28.20 inches (955 -mb) when it struck Long Island. Carol was one of the few northeast tropical cyclones that had a classic eye when it made landfall: residents in the Groton, Connecticut area, reported that around 10 a.m., the sky cleared and the winds dropped, followed by a rapid increase 30-minutes later to hurricane force winds again (New London Day 9/1/54).

Hurricane Carol produced storm surge of 8 to 13-feet across the Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, and southeastern Massachuttes coastlines. Although Carol's storm surge were at least 3 to 5-feet lower than the 38 hurricane, some locations reported record tidal surges. Just as in 1938 - Carol arrived close to the time of high tide. Observers in Montauk, Long Island reported that the ocean completely crossed the Montauk highway, cutting off the far eastern tip of Long Island for a time. On Shore Road, the main coastal road along the beach in Westerly, Rhode Island, tides up to 13-feet above mean water were estimated. The water rose to within 1-foot of the record high water line on the Plaque at the Old Market House in Dowtown Providence commemorating the Great 1938 Hurricane - 12.9-feet above mean water. In Connecticut, the storm surge was severe east of the Connecticut River. A tidal measurement of 8-feet above m.s.l was recorded at the Groton Railroad Station. From White Sands Beach in Old Lyme eastward tides were estimated at 8 to 10 feet above m.s.l.

The frightening intensity of Hurricane Carol's storm surge in Rhode Island is captured in this photograph of Westerly, Rhode Island. Buildings in the center of the photo were floated off their foundations, while buildings in the lower portion were swept completely away, only slabs and driveways remain (Photo Rhode Island National Guard 9/54).

 

Many buildings along the Rhode Island coast lost their roof in Carol's howling winds. This building was located at the eastern end of Misquamicut Beach in Westerly. (Photo Rhode Island National Guard 9/2/54).

 

THE IMPACT

Southern Rhode Island bore the brunt of Hurricane Carol's fury. Carol's winds tore roofs off hundreds of buildings, downed thousands of trees and power lines, and littered roads and rail lines with a mountain of debris. Many buildings in the Westerly/Charlestown area lost their roofing during the height of the storm - forcing many to scurry to secondary shelter in severe weather conditions. In Warwick, the roof of a large apartment complex was blown off...exposing 165 people to the elements all at once. Power was lost by 600,000 Rhode Islanders (85% of the State).

The storm surge was even more destructive from Watch Hill to Point Judith. Carol crossed the coast close to the time of high tide. A storm-surge of 10 to 13-feet swamped many barrier island and tidal communities across Rhode Island. Hundreds of summer cottages were swept away. Green Hill and Matunuck had homes swept a half mile inland from their foundations. From Westerly to Newport - the combined effects of wind and water destroyed more than 5,000 buildings. The storm tide raced up the Pawcatuck River flooding the business sections of Westerly. Storm surge flooding was also severe along the shores of Narragansett Bay, as Bristol and Jamestown had hundreds of structures destroyed.

The Pier boardwalk and Bathhouse complex in Matunuck, Rhode Island is shown in June 1953, while hundreds of people enjoy the Arcade and Beach. (Rhode Island Office of Economic Development 1953).

 

The Pier and Bathhouse Complex two days after Hurricane Carol in 1954. Rows of bathhouse (left of center) vanished without a trace (Rhode Island National Guard 1954).

 

In Connecticut, while the western half of the state suffered almost no damage at all from Carol - southeastern Connecticut was once again pounded mercilessly. From Saybrook, through the Lymes, to New London and Mystic, wind gusts of well over 100-mph and tides 8- feet above m.s.l damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings. Many homes in southeastern Connecticut had roofing damage due to large falling trees. In the Lymes, many beach cottages were flooded, some completely swept away into the ocean. While in the Groton/Long Point area, 50 homes and the Casino Building were submerged at the height of the storm. Carol pounded the City of New London - the harbor and docks were in shambles after the storm, with hundreds of boats smashed and thrown onto coastal roads. Shorefront restaurants and business had glass shattered and heavy flooding - with losses in the millions. Up the Thames River in Norwich, river flooding and tree damage was some of the worst on record. After the cyclone, along with many sections of Rhode Island, Connecticut used martial law to strictly enforce a dusk to dawn curfew.

Giant waves crash against the second floor of oceanfront homes in Old Lyme, Connecticut during Hurricane Carol in 1954. Tides along the eastern Connecticut coast reached 8 feet above m.s.l. (Photo NOAA Photo Library).

 

To this day...Hurricane Carol remains the most damaging hurricane in Massachusetts history. Around New Bedford and Buzzards Bay, the scene was one of devastation. Tides in Buzzards Bay reached their highest known levels since records were kept. The massive storm surge swept away cottages and destroyed the many small boatyards along both ends of Buzzards Bay. Along the Outer Cape, a storm -surge of at least 13-feet above m.s.l (along with 10-foot waves) created a 20-foot wall over water that swept away buildings, homes, cottages, and business. Weeks after the storm, piles of wreckage could be seen for miles along Route 6 in southeastern Massachusetts.

As Carol raced northward past Providence and Cape Cod...the Boston area was hit worse than in 1938. Near 12:00 noon Carol swept over the Boston...bring the city the worst hurricane conditions since 1869. Wind gusts over 100-mph sent trees, traffic lights...even the steeple of the Old North Church... crashed into city streets. An estimated 500,000 people in the Boston area lost power during Carol. Although most tropical cyclones lose their intensity when they reach this far north...Carol still produced hurricane-force gusts well into New England; In Concord, New Hampshire, city hall recorded gusts to 70-mph...while the Augusta, Maine State Airport measured 80-mph peak gusts as the weakening tropical storm passed through. Carol finally died over the cool forests of Canada on September 1st.

In howling winds and a dark sky near 12 noon - the two-hundred- foot, 148-year old steeple of the Old North Church crashes into the streets of Boston during Hurricane Carol in 1954. The steeple had stood since 1806.

 

Hurricane Carol killed 66 people, injured several thousand, are left many locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern Massachusetts in shambles. Although tragic...the death toll was still far less than the death toll in the 38 cyclone. The storm also left several hundred homeless in southern Rhode Island, and was a major economic blow to the Rhode Island and Connecticut beach tourist industry. The local fruit industry in eastern Connecticut and eastern Long Island suffered immense losses - with peach and apple trees striped bare. Downtown Providence, Rhode Island, for the second time in less than 20-years...had suffered a severe storm surge from a tropical cyclone. The Federal Government and the State of Rhode Island decided that something needed to be done to protect the capital city of Providence from hurricane storm surge flooding. A few years later the Providence Hurricane Barrier was constructed to protect the city from tidal flooding.

Although the total number of buildings damaged by Hurricane Carol was less than in the 38 storm, property values had increased greatly. Carol had produced destruction from Long Island to Canada; however, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts suffered the greatest destruction. Carol was the most expensive hurricane to ever strike the United States up to that date (1954)...with losses up to $500 million.

 

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 © Michael A Grammatico 8/09

 

 

 

 

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