, Salem, MA

September 12, 2013

Looking back at the great Atlantic hurricane of 1944


---- — Today, some of us can remember that just six years after the devastating New England Hurricane of 1938, another powerful hurricane tracked over eastern New England.

This storm was detected just northeast of the Leeward Islands on Sept. 9, 1944. The weather forecasters found it moving west-northwest for several days. By the 14th, the eye of the impressive hurricane was located near Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Like the 1938 hurricane, it started to accelerate in a north-northeasterly direction along the East Coast, still centered offshore. During its early days, it was a Category 4 hurricane with steady winds up to 134 mph at Cape Henry, Va. (When it arrived in New England, it was a Category 3 storm.)

From there northward there were many reports of full hurricane force (over 74 mph winds). Hartford, Conn., had gusts to 100 mph. The highest sustained winds were 140 mph. These winds occurred when the barometric pressure plummeted to a low of 27.85 inches. This pressure reading was lower than that recorded in the 1938 hurricane. The storm tracked much farther east than the recent Hurricane Irene.

Boston had gusts just over 100 mph. The winds raised havoc over the North Shore as well. Many trees that survived the 1938 storm were felled by this intense hurricane, and, of course, the power lines came down once more.

This hurricane produced considerable rainfall, ranging from 6 to 12 inches along the coastal regions. However, the storm did not have the devastating effects produced by the 1938 hurricane, since the tides were low. It is interesting to note that this storm occurred during World War II. Thus, it caused a tremendous amount of damage at sea. Five large vessels, including a U.S. destroyer, two large Coast Guard cutters and a merchant ship were lost at sea off the East Coast of the United States, resulting in 344 deaths.

The storm was particularly impressive to me, since two other students and I were able to keep track of the storm throughout its passage over our locale at Malden, Mass. It was wartime then and we were taking an intensive course in meteorology in our junior year. Since we had a fine weather observatory, we were able to make complete observations of the hurricane throughout the storm. Our peak winds gusted to 86 mph, and the barometric pressure plummeted to 28.678 inches.

What a night that was.

Arthur A. Francis is a Salem meteorologist.