The Long Island Express
By Mike Stevens
The 1938 Hurricane Which Hit New England and New York
Meteorologist Charlie Pierce squinted at his data one more time. He had tried to find something he’d done wrong in reaching the conclusion he’d reached, but could not; a major hurricane was heading straight for the New England and New York areas. Granted, many variables could still disprove his conclusion, but better safe than sorry. He had been tracking the storm since September 10th, and had watched with mounting trepidation as it bore down on the east coast of the U.S. He had to bring this to his boss’s attention. He had only been forecasting weather for the National Weather Service for a little while, and he was considered just a junior forecaster, so he would need his boss’s expert opinion to convince others. He walked over to his boss’s desk, and said,
“Boss, take a look at my prediction. It is my belief that the New England area is in real danger. This hurricane is headed right there.”
His boss looked at it, and said “Charlie, you haven’t been here very long, so I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong, there will be no danger; look at the numbers, by the time in makes landfall, somewhere well south of New England, it’ll have weakened severely; it’ll give the area heavy rains, and may cause some minor flooding, and then move easterly, back over the ocean. So there’s no reason to panic people. Besides there hasn’t been a damaging hurricane hit that far north since 1893. I think you’re overstating the danger.”
“I’m sorry sir, but I believe it’ll cause a lot worse than minor flooding.”
“Charlie, it’ll be bad for wherever it makes landfall, but it’ll move back out to sea, causing nothing more than some minor flooding in New England and New York, maybe.”
“But sir, there’s a high pressure area developing off shore that will prevent the hurricane from veering back out to sea.”
“Now Charlie,” said the boss, “you’re worried about something that’ll never happen.”
“But sir, my prediction is likely to happen.”
“I’ve heard enough out of you; drop it!”
Charlie was positive his prediction was correct, but he had been overruled, and there was not a lot he could do or say.
The morning of September 21, 1938 dawned slightly cloudy in Westhampton, on the Eastern edge of Long Island, and very breezy. Carol Gray had her whole day planned. First, she’d get dressed, then go out and work in her garden, as she would be marrying Paul Craig in a week, and this would become their house, and she wanted it to look its best. She quickly got up from the breakfast table, put her dirty dishes in the sink; she’d clean them after working in the garden for awhile. She was too excited to get started!
As she left the house, she noticed dark, heavy clouds rolling by overhead, and felt raindrops. Oh well, another time, perhaps. She went back into the house, and a little while later, when she looked out the window, she saw that the weather was deteriorating. Strong winds buffeted everything, and heavy rain slashed down from a sullen sky. Just then, the lights flickered, and went out. She thought of Paul, and knew he was safely out of the weather at work, but he might call to make sure she was all right.
By 2.30, the wind was a sheik it the ears of Carol Gray, and she wondered if the roof of her house was going to come off. She’d never been in this situation, after all, this was New York! She would have listened to the weather forecast on the radio, but there was no power.
Charlie Pierce at National Weather Service headquarters listened to the reports of severe weather all up and down the eastern seaboard. It was exactly as he’d feared; the hurricane was moving so fast, New York and New England were totally unprepared for the extent that was about to hammer them. He should have been feeling vindicated, but those poor people!
Paul Craig was worried. He worked on an assembly line, but nothing could get done, because the power had gone out. Jerry Wise had a portable radio that ran on batteries, and what it was picking up from a station just outside New York City was alarming. According to the broadcaster, New York City only caught a little bit of the hurricane, but the real trouble spot was Long Island, specifically the eastern Long Island area, which included Carol’s town of Westhampton. He’d tried calling, but couldn’t get through. Now, the worst possible scenarios were running through his head.
Carol was beside herself with worry. Her repeated phone calls to Paul’s place of employment either went unanswered, or the line was busy. Outside, the storm had only gotten worse. She ran to get her portable radio, and listened to the news; from far out of town, as there was no electricity; the nearby Dune Road area of Long Island had been completely destroyed, resulting in heavy loss of life. The somber broadcaster reported severe loss of life all up and down the east coast where the hurricane had touched. The Westhampton movie theater had literally been swept out to sea, with everyone inside, and their fate was unknown. As the broadcast originated many miles from Long Island, Carol was frustrated about not hearing more about what was happening on Long Island. After reporting on faraway events, the broadcast at last had more news from Long Island. Apparently, the storm surge caused by the hurricane had flooded across the tracks of The Long Island Railroad, turning the Montauk area into an island, and the steeple of The Old Whaler Church had collapsed. In Greenport, the town movie theater had been destroyed. This was a nightmare! She hoped Paul was safe.
Paul Craig was desperate to get to Carol’s place, to see how she was fairing. He had left work, after the winds died down, despite the pleas of his coworkers that it wasn’t safe, but he was having quite a time getting around the numerous downed power lines. The scene was surreal, with toppled structures, and severe damage everywhere he looked.
At last, he staggered up the sidewalk to Carol’s house. Thank god it was still in one piece. He desperately pounded on the door, and just about the time the fear was rising in him, she answered the door.
“Carol, thank god; I was so worried!”
“Paul, I’m fine; I’m so glad to see you!”
They embraced, and thanked god were still alive!
6 months had passed since the hurricane, and they were reading the paper. It said that major damage had been reported almost everywhere. Property damage had been in the millions, the death toll was still unofficial, but approximately 700 people had lost their lives, the amount of homes destroyed was believed to number somewhere around 4,500, with an additional 25,000 reporting damage. Somewhere around 26,000 automobiles had been destroyed, and 20,000 electrical poles had been knocked down. An estimated 2 billion trees had been uprooted. On a personal note, their marriage had yet to happen, but all-in-all, they were both just happy to be alive!