Remembering Hurricane Carol
Did you witness Hurricane Carol in 1954? Tell me about it! And if you have a picture you're willing to share, that's all the better. I'd love to hear from you and I'll add what you have to say to our "Your Views" page. So if you have something to share, please:
Send me email, Greg Stone
This was a real nice shock - the Providence Journal called for what I assumed was a few paragraphs in a general story about Hurricane Carol. Instead it turned out to be a story devoted to this Web site and it ran on Page 1 on the 50th anniversary of the Hurricane.
They did an excellent job and the result was a real surge of hits on the Web site and many new stories from people about their own experiences. (What I like most about this was I didn't promote the Web site to them - they discovered the web site on their own and contacted me. )if you have a problem getting to it, try here.
In 1954 I was 13 and the most exciting thing to happen was Hurricane Carol. I took pictures during the storm and after the storm, made them into sets, and sold them to neighbors. Here are the pictures and my memories along with those of family and friends. Greg Stone 1>
And there was wind damage
Knock down one of those magnificent old elms and you saw how big (and perhaps shallow) the roots were. These two were in front of the Adams' house on Jenny's Lane, a short distance from the water. A 1975 report I have from the National Weather Service lists Carol as a Category III storm on the Safir/Simpson Hurricane Scale when it hit Rhode Island - that's strong. It means winds of 111-130 mph. The 1938 storm got the same classification. But from there the picture gets confusing and the actual impact depends both on proximity to the shoreline and altitude.
The Journal, in 1954, reported that the 1938 storm had sustained winds of 121 miles an hour and "gusts of far greater force." The peak winds in that storm lasted about two hours - it was moving more slowly - while for Carol they lasted half that long. At 11:37 am the U.S. Weather Bureau at Hillsgrove (now TF Greene Airport) recorded a peak gust of 105-115 mph. "Moments earlier the top sustained velocity of 90 mph was recorded."
But one of my favorite sources, "The Country Journal New England Weather Book" by David Ludlum, says "The highest hurricane wind ever measured in New England was a momentary gust of 186 mph and a sustained, five-minute speed of 121 mph, at Blue Hill Observatory, Milton, Massachusetts, on September 21, 1938." Now that's impressive! But that's an observatory on top of an exposed, 600-foot hill. The same source says that Providence recorded sustained winds of 87 mph in 1938. So when the Journal reports 121, they are giving the Blue Hills figure, not what was actually felt in the city at ground level.
Given that, and given my experience in later storms, all I can say is "your experiences may vary." Such reports give an idea of the total intensity of the storm, but not everyone gets the worst of it. In Hurricane Bob on August 19, 1991, there was a lot of talk of "mircro bursts" - when sudden, very strong gusts knocked down trees and whatever in relatively small areas. That storm didn't seem nearly as bad to me as Carol, but again it did not hit at high tide and it really did a lot of damage in Padanaram (Dartmouth, MA), but not so much in Rhode Island. Path, timing, tide are everything. As big as these storms look in a satellite photo, the real threat is a relatively small area near their center. They can also be packed with surprises. One of the most costly, in terms of property damage, was one I barely remember - Hurricane Diane on August 17-19, 1955. During that time period that storm dumped 19.76 inches of rain at Westfield, MA, and that caused floods and it was floods, inland, that did nearly all the damage.
I don't remember losing any trees in our yard, but Bren remembers crying when the beautiful weeping willow near the northwest corner of their house went down. She lived right next door on Harbour Road, with our house between them and the river. She had a good view of the river, however, and remembers watching Mr. Gladding ride out the storm. She also remembers speculating with her mother whether the water would cover the single section of white fence that was on the waterfront at the end of Harbour Road. Her mother didn't think it would reach the fence, but by noon it was all but covered with water.
All of her memories of the storm weren't sad. In the aftermath, with power out for days, Bren remembers her family gathering with ours to play scrabble, or cards. Neither one of us is sure exactly what we played, but it was a quiet way to spend the last of the summer evenings, doing whatever you did by the light of candles and lanterns and with most of the noise of technological society silenced by the storm for at least a week. That also meant school didn't open as planned, which was another bonus!
Bren remembers her father cooking his morning toast over the barbecue grill in their back yard! That was a far cry from the steaks he so loved to cook on that grill. I remember my father bringing home a "Sterno" stove. I was fascinated by the thing - a little can of gelatin-like stuff that smelled funny and burned with a gentle flame. I can't remember being able to get much heat out of it to cook anything, but that was all part of the hurricane adventure.