A Century of Connecticut Storms
Two devastating storms are known to have hit New England before the 20th century
the Great Colonial Hurricane of August 1635 and the Great September Gale of 1815. In 1635, Governor John Winthrop and William Bradford of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies remarked that the tide rose from 14 to 20 feet higher than ordinary. Evidence of the storm’s damage “will remain this hundred years where it was sorest” as it reportedly “blew down many hundred thousands of trees, turning up the stronger by the roots.” Again in 1815 (and many storms in between), the Great September Gale felled so many trees that it spurred a building boom two years later due to the plentiful supply of cured lumber.
1938, September 21: The Great New England Hurricane
The 1938 Hurricane, a Category 3 storm with surges of 10-12 feet, devastated the eastern seaboard. The storm caused 564 deaths (125 in Connecticut) and more than 1,700 injuries, and destroyed 9,000 homes and businesses. The cost of damage in 1938 dollars was $308 million ($53 million in Connecticut alone).
The ‘38 hurricane evokes strong memories for long-time Fairfielders. The greatest storm surge ever recorded in the state, its tremendous 15-foot waves tore at the shoreline at New Haven and Bridgeport, crashing over seawalls and obliterating seaside buildings, docks, and wharves. Residents recalled it was the highest tide ever witnessed. Thirty cottages were destroyed at the extreme western end of Fairfield Beach peninsula. More than a thousand boats were wrecked, and the New York-New Haven Railroad ceased service for the first time in its history.
1944, September 14: The Great Atlantic Hurricane
With gusts over 100 mph and 11 inches of rain, this Category 3 storm recorded tides similar to the 1938 Great New England Hurricane. Less damage was inflicted than the ‘38, partly due to the region’s lack of rebuilding from the previous storm. In Fairfield, it is said that during current low tides some of the exposed wooden remains in Ash Creek are from two wooden coal barges that broke loose from their moorings in Black Rock Harbor and foundered there during the storm.
1954, August-September: Carol and Edna
Carol, followed quickly by Hurricane Edna in September, was a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 80-100 mph. The storm left widespread destruction, causing 68 deaths, destroying 4,000 homes, and doing $460 million in damage. In Fairfield, damage was estimated to be $610,000 and 1,600 acres were flooded.
1955, August: Connie and Diane
The rains from Connie set the stage for the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Diane, which arrived five days later, causing major flooding in the Naugatuck Valley.
1960, September 12: Donna
A Category 1 storm when it reached Connecticut, Donna brought between 4 and 8 inches of rain and caused storm surges of up to 10 feet along the coastline, causing $387 million in damage. John Steinbeck captured his experiences on Long Island during Hurricane Donna in his book, Travels With Charley:
“We watched the wind rip at earth and sea like a surging pack of terriers. The trees plunged and bent like grasses, and the whipped water raised a cream of foam. A boat broke loose and tobogganed up on the shore, and then another. Houses built in the benign spring and early summer took waves in their second-story windows. Our cottage is on a little hill thirty feet above sea level. But the rising tide washed over my high pier. As the wind changed direction I moved Rocinante [Steinbeck’s camper] to keep her always to leeward of our big oaks. The Fayre Eleyne [Steinbeck’s boat] rode gallantly, swinging like a weather vane away from the changing wind…”
1985, September 28: Gloria
When it came ashore, Gloria – a Category 2 hurricane - was the strongest storm to hit Connecticut in more than 30 years. It caused eight deaths and $900 million in damage. Strong winds and torrential rains caused heavy damage to homes and businesses along the shore, particularly between Westport and Milford.
2011, August 27:Irene
Hurricane Irene was a Category 3 hurricane which weakened to a tropical storm by the time it hit Connecticut. Nevertheless, it wreaked havoc along the coast, particularly in East Haven, Milford and Fairfield. Thirty-five communities were declared disaster areas, eight people died and 132 homes were destroyed.
2012, October 29: Sandy
Superstorm Sandy caused greater damage than any hurricane in the U.S. other than Katrina; its destruction totaled $1 billion in Connecticut. Towns along the western Connecticut shoreline were hardest hit, including Fairfield where nearly 1,000 homes (the highest number in the state) were flood-damaged, and 5,000 citizens were evacuated. Six homes washed out to sea and more than two dozen were later condemned. Sand buried main roads and spread nearly a half a mile in from the shore.