Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 8:26 PM GMT on October 26, 2012
Late Season Tropical Storms that have affected the U.S. north of Hatteras
As it appears increasingly likely that a ‘Frankenstorm’ may hit the U.S. coast somewhere between Delaware and Maine between October 29th and November 1st I thought I would take a look back and see what other late season storms of this nature and magnitude have previously affected the region.
The Great Storm of October 29, 1693: Virginia to Long Island
A tremendous storm, possibly tropical in origin, changed the course of rivers and modified the coastline from the Delmarva Peninsula to Long Island. It is believed that Fire Island (just east of New York City) was bisected by the storm. The same apparently occurred to many coastal portions of the Delmarva Peninsula and region around Chesapeake Bay.
The Benjamin Franklin ’Eclipse’ Hurricane of November 2, 1743: New Jersey to Maine
David M. Ludlum in his classic book ‘Early American Hurricanes: 1492-1870’ (American Meteorological Society, 1963) said this about the storm:
The storm that raced northward along the Atlantic Coast on November 2, 1743 deserves a unique place in the annals of American meteorology. Not only was this the first tropical storm in America to be measured accurately by scientific instruments, but it also provided Benjamin Franklin with a key to unlock for the first time the secret of a storm’s forward movement.
Franklin noted that in Philadelphia the barometer fell to 29.35” (994 mb) and the damage done both on land and at sea was “the worst in  years”. The same was said in Boston where a storm surge overwhelmed the city wharves and flooded the streets of the city. Storm surge flooding was also reported at Piscataqua and damage was reported inland at Newbury, New Hampshire. It has been called the ‘Eclipse Hurricane’ because it occurred during the night of a total lunar eclipse (which Franklin was disappointed to miss because of the storm’s cloud cover). However, Franklin noted the times that the storm struck at various locations between Philadelphia and Boston and the change in prevailing wind directions and thus was able to discern how the path of a storm and its wind circulations were related.
Great New England Hurricane of October 23-24, 1761
A possibly major hurricane struck Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts on October 23-24, 1761. It was said to be the worst storm in Boston since the great hurricane of 1727 and many buildings were destroyed and bridges washed out from Providence to Newport, Rhode Island and north to Boston and across Cape Cod. John Winthrop in Boston measured a barometric pressure of 29.57” (1001 mb) when the storm was at Force 1 but failed to note the pressure when the storm reached is full fury of Force 4, the highest rating on the storm severity scale he used at that time.
Cape Cod Storm of November 1, 1778
A presumed tropical storm brushed Cape Cod on this date and 50 to 70 lives were lost, mostly maritime. Little more is known about this storm. The death toll, however, ranks it as one of the top 20 deadliest late-season tropical storms in U.S. history.
The ‘Expedition’ Hurricane of November 2-3, 1861: Cape Hatteras to Boston
The name of this hurricane is a result of a Federal Army fleet “the largest fleet of war ships and transports ever assembled” that was set to sail from Fort Monroe inside the entrance of Chesapeake Bay south around Cape Hatteras and attack Confederate coastal forts in South Carolina and Georgia. The fleet set sail on October 29th. On November 2nd, just as the fleet was rounding Cape Hatteras, a hurricane struck. A fort on Cape Hatteras beach itself saw the water rise and cover the entire island strip leaving the fort the only site above water. Four sentry’s drowned here and two of the fleet vessels sunk with an unknown loss of life.
Further north the storm overwhelmed New York City’s waterfront with the storm surge extending five blocks inland on Broad Street as far as Beaver Street. The eye of the storm seems to have passed inland around the Rhode Island/Connecticut border judging by a wind shift to the SE at Providence and Boston. The ship Maritania, sailing from Liverpool to Boston, ran onto rocks just east of Boston Light and 22 passengers and crew were lost. A total of 33 lives were lost during this storm according to NHC archives.
Hurricane of October 30, 1866
Little is known about this storm and, in fact, it may be an error since mention of it only appears in Dunn and Miller’s book (see references at end of blog). They designated it a “major” hurricane (meaning winds of 101-135 mph in their classification system) affecting the southeastern New England coast with “very high tides”. Ludlum has no mention of this storm in his book.
Hurricane of October 23-25, 1878 ‘The Great Gale’: Hatteras to New England
This was a very intense tropical storm that inflicted major damage from Virginia to Maine. Winds of 120 mph were measured on Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, 100 mph at Cape Lookout, and 82 mph in Portsmouth, North Carolina. The barometer fell to 28.82” (976 mb) in Washington D.C. where the eye passed over. The path of the storm was similar to Hazel in 1954. 71 fatalities were reported as a direct result of the storm although it is unclear how many of these were maritime in nature. 700 buildings were reported destroyed in Pennsylvania where 50 churches also lost their steeples. This storm is the most recent, intense, late-season tropical storm to affect the mid-Atlantic region.
Two graphics illustrating what the Great Gale of 1878 might have looked like synoptically when it was centered over Washington D.C. on October 24th (top) and what its path (bottom) was from its inception in the Caribbean Sea on October 18th. Both images from Wikipedia commons.
Halloween Hurricane of October 31, 1899
A rare late season tropical storm that caused minor damage swept up the coastline from Hatteras to Nova Scotia.
20th Century Late Season Tropical Storms North of Hatteras worthy of Mention
Here is a (very) brief list of significant tropical storms that have impacted the Hatteras-Maine coasts since 1900. One of these did not actually make landfall but passed close enough to cause damage to the region. It appears that no significant tropical storm has struck the Atlantic Coast north of Cape Hatteras after October 25th since 1904. However, the so called ‘Frankenstorm’ may no longer be considered a tropical storm by the time it reaches the mid-Atlantic coast and it is difficult to say if that may also have been the case for some of the examples listed in this blog.
November 13-14, 1904 This hurricane skirted the coastline and made landfall on Nova Scotia. Barometric pressure readings fell to 29.08” at Cape Hatteras, 29.00” at Norfolk, Virginia, 28.74” in New York City, and 28.60” (968 mb) in Nova Scotia. A wind gust of 78 mph was measured on Block Island, Rhode Island. Damage was minor.
October 23-24, 1923 A hurricane hit the coast at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and moved due north inland to Ontario, Canada (much Like Hazel in October 1954). Highest wind gust reported was 82 mph at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Damage from the storm was minimal.
December 2-3. 1925 I mention this storm since it is probably the latest tropical storm to ever affect the coast north of Cape Hatteras. It crossed over the Florida Peninsula on November 30-December 1st and again over Cape Hatteras on December 2nd and then headed out to sea off the Delmarva Peninsula on December 3rd. Atlantic City reported wind gusts to 64 mph. Little damage was noted with the storm although two deaths were reported.
If ‘Frankenstorm’ pans out to be as powerful and odd as the models currently forecast, then it may be said that this storm will be unique in the annals of American weather history.
The storm may be unique because of:
1) Its strength for a tropical-originated storm to impact the mid-Atlantic and/or New England regions at this late time of the season (after the last week of October or thereafter). This would hold true if the forecast minimum pressure falls to 955 mb (28.20”) or lower as it approaches the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday or Tuesday.
2) The potential curvature of the storm track from well offshore at the 37°-40° latitude and then perhaps turn west and barrel into the mid-Atlantic coastline. It is extremely rare for any storm (tropical or extra-tropical) to move westward at this latitude and make landfall in New Jersey or Delaware. Remember that there are only about three known instances of a hurricane or strong tropical storm to ever make landfall in New Jersey or Delaware at any time of the year.
3) Whether the storm is officially tropical or extra-tropical, no storm like this (if the current models are correct) has yet been observed in the records of modern meteorology.
Early American Hurricanes: 1492-1870 David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1963
Hurricanes: Their Nature and History Ivan Ray Tannehill, Princeton University Press, 7 editions 1938-1950
Atlantic Hurricanes Gordon E. Dunn and Banner I. Miller, Louisiana State University Press, 1964
Christopher C. Burt
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