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New England Hurricane Climatology

January 19, 2016

By Paul Homewood 


1938 Hurricane


I mentioned Prof Scott Mandia’s take on the Long Island Express hurricane of 1938. Scott, who is a fully paid up member of the hockey team, also has this climatology of North East hurricanes:


New Yorkers give little thought to hurricanes since Long Island is so far from the warm, tropical oceans that feed hurricanes. However, according to the 1984 Hurricane Damage Mitigation Plan by the Long Island Regional Planning Board, several hurricanes and 15 tropical storms have made landfall in this area since 1886. According to historical record, there have been five "epic hurricanes" (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir Simpson Scale) in the years 1938, 1893, 1821, 1815, and 1635 (Hughes).

An empirical study of 20 past hurricanes that have impacted the New York City and Long Island coast regions by Scheffner and Butler (1996) found that the return period of a category 3 or greater hurricane is approximately 80 years. A strong category 3 or minimal category 4 hurricane has a return frequency of approximately 200 years. Therefore, it is not unlikely that another "epic" hurricane will strike the Long Island coastal region in the coming decades.



Intense Hurricanes on a 20-30 Year Cycle


Research done by hurricane experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) reveals that hurricane frequency in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea regions runs on a 20-30 year cycle. (Time, 1998) The graphic to the left (Risk Prediction Initiative, 1998) clearly illustrates this cycle. The last intense period was in the 1950’s and 1960’s with a lag between 1970 and 1994. The hurricane frequency is on the upswing once again which increases the chances for landfall everywhere along the east coast of the U.S.

Unfortunately, in the past few decades, the coastal population has also increased substantially which further increases the hurricane risk. Even though more sophisticated forecasting tools such as satellites and Doppler radar are providing more lead-time for issuing warnings, the threat of massive deaths remains fairly high due to the increased coastal populations.

Source: USGS, 1998


Coastal Population Has Increased
Source: Time Magazine, 1998


The tables to the right show probability estimates for the occurrence of various disaster events (including hurricanes) that could impact the U.S. in the future. While it may not be surprising to see that there is a >99% likelihood of at least 10 deaths from a hurricane in the next 10 years, it should be noted that the data indicates a 71% probability of 1,000 deaths from a hurricane in the next 20 years!



Take good note of his first graph, showing a much reduced number of hurricanes in the 1970’s and 80’s. The 20-30 year cycle he refers to is the AMO.

Remember this fact when people claim that hurricanes have increased since we started satellite monitoring in the 1970’s.

In the meantime, we can be grateful that the North East has not since had to experience any hurricane anywhere as near as powerful as the Long Island Express, or indeed the other four “epic” hurricanes in earlier centuries. Indeed, the last hurricane to actually make landfall in New England was Bob in 1991, which came ashore as a Cat 2.

  1. sarastro92 permalink
    January 19, 2016 3:54 pm

    It should be assumed that hurricanes and large storms such as Sandy will strike the US midAtlantic with some frequency and therefore protective infrastructure should be funded and coastal restrictive zoning implemented to avert disaster.

    This urgent recommendation is not based on some global warming propaganda, but the historical records noted above.

  2. RAH permalink
    January 19, 2016 6:07 pm


    Sandy wasn’t an exceptionally powerful storm though tropical force winds did cover a pretty good distance from it’s center. However there is some question if it was even a CAT I Hurricane when it actually made landfall. But it hit in a highly populated coastal area during the peak of a exceptionally high tide and thus the results which caused it to be hyped as a “Super Storm”. There has been, and almost certainly will be, much more powerful storms that will hit New England. As things stand now we are still in period of over a decade since a major (CAT III or higher) hurricane has struck the shores of the Continental US. I suspect this hiatus will end this year and there to will be a spike in Atlantic Tropical storm incidence and severity in the next two to three years as is usually the case during a La Nina.

    • sarastro92 permalink
      January 20, 2016 8:18 am

      So do you want to build protective infrastructure or not?

      • RAH permalink
        January 23, 2016 1:25 am

        It isn’t what I want. I have not control over that. Where I live tornados are the severe wind storms we deal with. But I guess they aren’t too concerned along the NE coast. Heck, when Sandy hit the Mayor of NYC was more worried about getting the NYC Marathon done than sending a generator or two over to New Jersey.

      • RAH permalink
        January 23, 2016 1:30 am

        Oh, one other thing, in case you haven’t noticed sarastro92. In the US media ANYTHING that happens with inclement weather along the I-95 corridor from Boston to Washington, DC is worse than the same thing happening anywhere else. DC or Philly gets 30″ of snow and it’s “snowaggedon”. Bangor Maine or Holland Michigan gets that much or more it just not news.

  3. David Richardson permalink
    January 19, 2016 6:30 pm

    The Long Express of 1938 had gust speeds close to double Storm Sandy. As RAH states above I believe that no hurricane force winds were recorded onshore, but it was categorised as a CAT 1 Hurricane the day before.

    It was an amazing event meteorologically though not unprecedented. Although the wind speeds were not that high, it caused a storm-surge that was at the extreme end of happenings in the last 4 centuries due to coinciding with a very high spring tide( as RAH says), but also because of the huge area it covered.

    Studies of sedimentary deposits in Eastern USA show that many such large surges have occurred before with the 17th century having the highest frequency. Which is interesting as that century must have been one of the coldest in the Holocene interglacial. Also of note is the fact that the 17th century (according to Chinese sedimentary records) also had the highest frequency of severe typhoon surges in SE Asia.

    Storm Sandy was very big and I would suggest, therefore, could not generate higher winds. Same principal as a spinning ice skater.

    • David Richardson permalink
      January 19, 2016 6:33 pm

      The Long Island Express of 1938 killed 600 people and their deaths are commemorated every year. I was in that area two weeks before Sandy struck.

      • January 19, 2016 8:26 pm

        Ironically Dave, we were in Cape Cod the day Katrina hit.

        We had been following its progress for days, for most of which time it was a non event, as it was supposed to rapidly weaken as it passed through Florida.

        Instead it took an unexpected left turn around the Keys, then turned right and powered up as it barreled across the Gulf. The rest is history.

        Even then, we were astonished to arrive at Boston Airport the next day, and see New Orleans under six feet of water.

      • David Richardson permalink
        January 20, 2016 9:34 am

        Paul, Did you get to Spanky’s Clam Shack on the harbour in Hyannis?

      • January 20, 2016 11:22 am

        No, but we went on the DUKW there

  4. Paul2 permalink
    January 19, 2016 7:19 pm

    Could do with a hurricane here in the UK considering that wind output is metered on Gridwatch at 0.08GW.

    For those interested here’s a chart of the wind in the UK:

  5. January 19, 2016 10:01 pm

    O/T,but just looked Nat. Grid on the Gridwatch site::demand is 42.43Gigawatts,and comrade Camerons windmills are producing 0.09Gigawatts.

  6. January 19, 2016 10:25 pm

    The other part about Sandy is that as an extratropical storm, it spun into a decending cold front creating a ‘perfect storm scenario’ similar to the 1991 event of book and George Clooney movie fame. That caused some extra inland flooding. Plus the left turn into central NJ put northern NJ and NYC square onto the ‘dirty’ quadrant (the NE storm sector) with the worst conditions. We got hit by Cat 2 Katrina passing east to west in Fort Lauderdale, not so bad. Weeks later, got hit by the dirty side of Wilma passing sw to ne. Took 18 months to repair the damage.

  7. John F. Hultquist permalink
    January 20, 2016 3:09 am

    I note that the table that contains the 1,000 fatalities at 0.71 probability came from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and is dated 1998. I’ve never thought much of these number games. It looks like (can’t tell really) they have gone back into the 1940s for data. That is before most folks had cars, before cell-phones, television (almost) and modern highways. The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was passed in 1956 but not essentially completed until 1991. Yes, there are more people – and society is much better able to avoid death and injury from such storms. Except for those bucking for a Darwin Award. So, I call foul on this item.

    Further, in the text there is this: “The hurricane frequency is on the upswing once again …
    Well, it has been so low, what else can it do but go up. I haven’t read that it has. Global tropical cyclone frequency and energy over the last few years refute that quote.

  8. January 20, 2016 3:50 am

    Thanks, Paul. Good post.

    Please consider:
    Global Tropical Cyclone Activity – Dr. Ryan N. Maue:

    Last 4-decades of Global and Northern Hemisphere Accumulated Cyclone Energy: 24 month running sums.
    Note that the year indicated represents the value of ACE through the previous 24-months for the Northern Hemisphere (bottom line/gray boxes) and the entire global ACE (top line/blue boxes). The area in between represents the Southern Hemisphere total ACE. [The graphic above is from December 31, 2015]

    From Global Tropical Cyclone Activity – Dr. Ryan N. Maue (

    The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index is the measure of total seasonal tropical storm activity used by NOAA. The ACE is a wind energy index, defined as the sum of the squares of the maximum sustained surface wind speed (knots) measured every six hours for all named storms while they are at least of tropical storm strength.

    • RAH permalink
      January 21, 2016 9:06 pm

      Is that adjusted? What I mean is that with satellites now they can more or less constantly monitor a storm. Before that all they had to rely on were the occasional visits of the storm chasers which started in the late 40s. Before that most of the data came from only shore based stations when the storm came ashore.

      IOW when you hear these days every once in a while that this storm or another was the most powerful yet recorded one has to understand that now we have a lot more data with nearly constant monitoring ot these tropical cyclones/tyhoons/hurricanes than we ever had before.

      The average person doesn’t seem to know that and thus cannot put what theyre being told into perspective and the alarmists use that fact.

  9. Andy DC permalink
    January 20, 2016 8:02 am

    Two storms not mentioned was CAT 3 Carol in 1954 and CAT 2 Edna, also in 1954, less than 2 weeks after Carol. Carol was a much smaller sized storm than 1938, but from Providence to Boston was about as strong. At the time, Carol was the costliest storm on record. It was known for toppling the Old North Church steeple in Boston. There were approximately 60 fatalities.

    Another significant storm was the 1944 hurricane, that did heavy damage to the SE of Boston. Then ex-hurricanes Connie and Diane caused catastrophic flooding from PA to MA in 1955. The period 1938 to 1955 were exceptionally active in New England.

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