New York's History of Hurricane Damage

By: Flora Richards-Gustafson

New York: too far north to be affected by hurricanes, right? Wrong. The southern states are not the only ones affected by hurricanes. In fact, the state of New York has seen about 84 hurricanes over the past few centuries.

Long, Long Ago
Before colonization, native folklore recounted a powerful storm of hurricane force that made landfall in the area of present-day New York. Historians believe this happened between 1278 and 1438. During the "Great Storm" of 1693, a hurricane hit Long Island. This storm's surges and waves are said to have formed Fire Island Cut. A few more storms in the eighteenth century smashed boats stored at Governor's Island.

The 1800s
Over twenty hurricanes blasted New York in the 1800s. In 1821, a hurricane made landfall in Norfolk and Long Island. This hurricane's 13-foot storm surge caused extensive flooding and severe amounts of damage. Seventeen people were killed when a ship crashed into Long Island. The Norfolk Herald reported:

"The continuous cataracts of rain swept impetuously along, darkening the expanse of vision and apparently confounding the heaven, earth and seas in a general chaos."

The Great Havana Hurricane of 1846, estimated to be a Category 5 storm, affected the whole northeast Atlantic coast. It is told that 100 yards of the Battery was lost to the strong surf.

The 1900s
One of the most infamous and damaging hurricanes of the twentieth century was the New England Hurricane of 1938. This Category 3 storm made landfall on Long Island. With wind gusts of 125 mph and a surge of 18 feet, this storm destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and took 60 lives in the state of New York alone.

The slightly less powerful Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 devastated many New York businesses. It was reported that about 1,000 businesses were destroyed by the 40 mph winds and 100 mph gusts.

In August and September of 1954, Hurricanes Carol and Edna made back-to-back appearances in New York. The storm surge of Carol temporarily isolated the eastern side of Long Island and caused a total of $460 million in damage. Edna dumped 9 inches of rain, caused $40 million in damages, and killed 20 people.

Hurricane Agnes (1972) brought up to 12 inches of water when it made landfall near New York City. This storm caused flooding and took the lives of 6 people. Later, when Hurricane Belle made landfall in 1976, about 30,000 New York residents were evacuated. A lot of property and crops were damaged by Belle's floodwaters.

After some minor hurricanes, Hurricane Gloria made landfall on Long Island in 1985. This storm's strong winds completely destroyed 48 homes and damaged hundreds more. Piers and docks were swept away and 683,000 people were left without electricity for up to 11 days.

Residents of New York are still cleaning water-damaged items from Hurricane Floyd (1999), which produced 13 inches of torrential rain.

In more recent years, Hurricane Frances (2004) caused $6.5 million in flood damage in the central part of the state. Residents witnessed up to 6 inches of rain. Frances was such a devastating storm that the World Meteorological Organization officially retired the name.

New York gets its fair share of extreme weather. Recent hurricanes and storms have been so devastating that the storm restoration process continues today.

~Flora Richards-Gustafson, 2009

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