Friday, September 15, 2006
Hurricanes are infrequent visitors to Carlisle
On August 24, 1635, a vast storm called the "Great Colonial Hurricane," now estimated as a category 3 with winds over 125 mph, blew without warning into eastern Massachusetts. Numerous ships, goods and lives were lost at sea. Whole forests were blown down and houses were destroyed. Farmers in the new town of Concord, Massachusetts (founded in 1635), saw their crops obliterated. Settlers were stunned at New England's excessive weather. Witnesses reported the waves were so fierce that the Narragansett Indians had to climb trees to escape the tidal surge that flowed inland. Five years later, when James Adams, the first Carlisle settler, began his homestead on South Street, he must have had plenty of blown-down trees with which to build his house.
This was the settlers' violent introduction to New England's unpredictable and sometimes extreme climate. Mark Twain said, "Yes, one of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it." But to the new settlers in the region this would not have been amusing. Carlisle's Solomon Andrews, who operated a mill at the site of the current Greenough Farm around 1757, was a direct descendent of Robert Andrews, the Captain of the Angel Gabriel, out of Bristol, England. This ship was one of the many that sank off the Massachusetts coast during the hurricane, but all the passengers and crew made it to shore. Joanna (Proctor) French was another Andrews descendant. She and her husband established the French family in Carlisle.
The birth of hurricanes
Hurricanes begin as low pressure waves that flow off the western African coast, gathering moisture as they move toward the eastern Caribbean. As the cluster of thunderstorms grows and rotates, the pressure in the center of the storm decreases. Moist air is drawn into the low pressure area, adding to the spin, and a tropical depression is born. While the storm moves over the warm water it continues to grow. It becomes a hurricane when maximum sustained winds reach 74 miles per hour. Hurricanes that survive the cool waters of New England often come ashore through the coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
More early American hurricanes
Strong hurricanes returned at the start of the 1800s. One of the strangest occurred on October 9, 1804. Arriving during a blast of unseasonable cold air, the hurricane brought reportedly 40 to 60 mph winds and 15 to 30 inches of snow to the Middlesex region. The combination of the high winds and snow damaged orchards and forests and caused many shipwrecks.
A massive and destructive hurricane caught New England unprepared and led to improvements in the hurricane warning system. The "Great New England Hurricane" of 1938, also known as the "Long Island Express," was reported in the Caribbean on September 18. It quickly grew into a dangerous category 5 storm, with sustained maximum winds of 160 mph. The U.S. National Weather Service forecast the storm would curve out to sea, but instead, it accelerated northward past the North Carolina coast at an unusual 60 to 70 mph. Without warning it blew across Long Island on September 21 as a strong category 3, with winds over 120 mph, a massive 500 miles wide. It then swept into New England at high tide, causing severe flooding and wind damage. Its high speed allowed it to maintain its strength well inland to the Canadian border. Over 600 died, and its estimated cost would have been over six billion dollars in today's economy.
The 1944 storm devastated the apple crop just as it was ready for harvest. A call went out to "salvage a million bushels of apples blown from trees throughout the Nashoba belt in Thursday night's storm," reported the Concord Enterprise Weekly. This was during World War II, so food was being rationed and the paper made it clear that no waste was to be tolerated. "Housewives of New England will be asked by poster and advertising campaigns to eat, cook, can and preserve the fruit." Schools throughout the area sent boys to pick up the fruit. The Enterprise assured citizens that, "There are no German prisoners working" to gather the bruised fruit.
Gloria inspires poetry
Weaker storms continued to visit New England but none caused major damage to Carlisle until Hurricane Gloria arrived. It came ashore as a strong category 1 on Tuesday, September 27, 1985 and blew down trees and wires. The October 4, 1985 Carlisle Mosquito quoted Fire Chief Robert Koning as saying the damage was "massive — like a war scene." Every main street in the town was blocked, and no emergency vehicles could get through. More than 250 "tree problems" had to be resolved. The new fire station, still under construction, was turned into the command center for the more than ninety workers doing the post-hurricane clean up. Carlisle's Barbara Bennett described the aftermath:
Bob blows into town
Hurricane Bob was a compact storm that intensified off the coast of Virginia to a weak category 3 on August 19, 1991. It came ashore over Block Island as a category 2 storm with wind speeds around 105 mph. Losing strength, it headed north, bringing 75 to 100 mph winds to Carlisle. As the eye passed over Carlisle, the dead quiet encouraged residents to emerge and assess the damage. The peace lasted for approximately twenty minutes and then the winds increased as they shifted to the northeast side. Paul Anagnostopoulos, of Rutland Street, watching his wife (this writer) walk around during the lull of the eye, witnessed a large oak fall inches from her as the wind returned. Needless to say she screamed and scrambled back into the relative safety of the house. The August 30 issue of the Carlisle Mosquito reported wires down on streets, trees on roads, and flooded basements due to the five to seven inches of rain that accompanied the storm.
The next hurricane?
Categories of storms
Type of Storm Category Wind Speed (mph)
Tropical Depression TD < 39
Tropical Storm TS 39-73
Hurricane 1 74-95
Hurricane 2 96-110
Hurricane 3 111-130
Hurricane 4 131-155
Hurricane 5 >155
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito