This is my husband’s recollection of the 1944 hurricane that hit Long Island.
I was 17 at that time and just enlisted with the U.S. Navy in New York. Having enough time left for the day, (it was only 2:30 pm) I decided to see my friend, Harry Knapp who had an apartment on the East Side in the city. I thought I’d catch the 6 PM train to East Islip which I did. However, the hurricane of ’44 was already on its powerful trek going up north. As the train chugged along, the passengers were wondering why the train was going too slow. We were told we were going through a hurricane. The train did not make it to Babylon till midnight. Usually it only took an hour.
At Babylon, I got on a taxi but when I told the driver to take me to East Islip, he said no way he was leaving Babylon. The road was too hazardous. So I waited for another train. At 1 am, a train came in doing shuttle from Babylon to Patchogue. I hopped on the train and made my way to East Islip. I got to East Islip from Babylon at 2 am. When I got off the train, the place was pitch black, I could not see my hand in front of my face. That’s how dark it was. There was no car or taxi to take me home which was about a mile and a half from the train station. Having no alternative, I decided to walk. Luckily I knew the way by heart.
The train station in East Islip was north of Montauk Highway. So I crossed the highway to Suffolk Lane. Half way on Suffolk Lane, I felt something grabbed my arm which scared me to death. I then found out it was a broken limb just hit my arm. I proceeded down the road. A few feet away, I hit another tree branches. I found my way around it and jumped over it and kept on walking. It happened three times. I stayed in the middle of the road. I felt I was safe in the middle of the road instead of the sidewalk.
I finally reached home on Meadow Farm Rd. The door was unlocked so I walked in. My parents never locked the front door. My father said it kept their friends away. I went up to my room which I shared with my brother. I was surprised to find him home. Bobby was apparently on leave from the U.S. Army. He told me to go see Mom. He said Mom thought I might be already on my way to Tokyo Bay.
I went to my parent’s bedroom and knocked on their door.
I said, “Mom, I’m home.”
Mom asked, “Are you OK?”
I said, “Yes.”
She said, “Go to bed.”
Few weeks later, I was called to report for active duty.
The 1944 Great Atlantic hurricane was a destructive and powerful tropical cyclone that impacted the entire United States Atlantic seaboard in September 1944. Impacts were most significant in New England, though significant effects were also felt along the Outer Banks, Mid-Atlantic states and the Canadian Maritimes. Due to its ferocity and path, the storm drew comparisons to the 1938 Long Island Express, known as one of the worst storms in New England history.
The origins of the 1944 hurricane was first identified well east of the Lesser Antilles on September 4. Over the next few days, the disturbance slowly traversed west-northwestward without producing any significant weather. On Sept. 8, the barometric depression became more well-defined, prompting the Weather Bureau in San Juan, Puerto Rico to issue advisories on the tropical disturbance. As a result of the sparseness of available surface observations east of the Lesser Antilles, a reconnaissance flight was dispatched to investigate the storm late on September 9. The flight reported that the disturbance had fully developed into a fully-fledged hurricane northeast of Puerto Rico.
As the storm moved west-northwest, it steadily intensified and reached peak intensity as a Category 4-equivalent hurricane on September 13 north of the Bahamas after curving northward and was named “Great Atlantic Hurricane” by the Weather Bureau in Miami, Florida to better convey the life-threatening risks associated with the powerful hurricane. After taking a northward turn on September 14, the center of the storm passed just east of Cape Hatteras, NC around 9:00AM. The hurricane then turned slightly to the northeast and accelerated to a forward speed of about 40 mph.
At 10:00 PM on 14 September, the hurricane passed over eastern Long Island, NY as a Category 3 hurricane. On September 15, the hurricane made landfall near Southampton in eastern Long Island with winds of 105 mph. The storm then crossed the island and Long Island Sound before making a second landfall two hours later near Point Judith, Rhode Island as a slightly weaker storm with winds of 100 mph. After crossing Rhode Island, it moved northeastward, passing just southeast of Boston, MA and out to sea. After weakening into a tropical storm, the system skimmed coastal Maine and moved into New Brunswick, Canada. Late on September 15, the system became extratropical, and shortly after, merged with a larger system southeast of Greenland on September 16.
As the storm moved northward along the eastern Atlantic seaboard, from North Carolina up to Newfoundland, it caused widespread damage. The hurricane cost over $100 million (1944 USD, $1.2 Billion 2010 USD) in damage and killed 390 people. Mainland evacuations and careful warnings, however, allowed the death toll on land to be fairly low: 46 persons.
The storm wreaked havoc on World War II shipping lines. The storm was also responsible for sinking the Navy destroyer USS Warrington approximately 450 miles east of Vero Beach, Florida, with a loss of 248 sailors. The hurricane was one of the most powerful to traverse the Eastern Seaboard, reaching Category 4 when it encountered Warrington, and producing hurricane force winds over a diameter of 600 miles. The hurricane also produced waves in excess of 70 feet in height. In addition to Warrington, the Coast Guard cutters CGC Bedloe (WSC-128) and CGC Jackson (WSC-142) both capsized and sank off Cape Hatteras (48 lives lost). The hurricane also claimed the 136-foot minesweeper USS YMS-409 which sank with all 33 on board lost. Further north, it also claimed the lightship Vineyard Sound (LV-73), which was sunk with the loss of all 12 aboard. It also drove SS Thomas Tracy aground in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
At the Carolina coast, the hurricane’s storm surge pushed 50 ft inland along unprotected coastline, destroying hundreds of boats, damaging boardwalks, and depositing debris along the Carolina beaches. Coastal farmland was inundated, with damage to corn and other crops initially estimated at “thousands of dollars.”
The hurricane was infamous for the amount of damage it caused along the New Jersey coastline. Long Beach Island and Barnegat Island both lost their causeways to the mainland in the storm effectively cutting them off from the rest of New Jersey. Additionally both islands lost hundreds of homes, where many homes in the town were swept out to sea. In Atlantic City, the hurricane’s storm surge forced water into the lobbies of many of the resorts famous hotels. The Atlantic City boardwalk suffered major damage.
During the storm, New York City saw sustained hurricane force winds of 81 mph with gusts up to 99 mph. Damages consisted of power outages, some lasting 10 days, and downed trees throughout the city. In nearby Long Island, damages totaled $1 million (1944 USD) on the eastern half of the island alone. The beach eroded up to 20 ft. in some places, causing houses to be taken by the sea. Tobacco and fruit damage in Connecticut totaled to about $2 million (1944 USD) with similar overall damage costs occurring in Rhode Island. More than $5 million (1944 USD) in damage which occurred on Cape Cod can be attributed to lost boats, as well as fallen trees and utility damage.
The Great Atlantic hurricane affected New England just six years after the region was ravaged by the infamous 1938 New England hurricane. While both storms greatly impacted New England, the 1944 hurricane was of weaker intensity at landfall, and hit the coast from a direction that produced a very low storm surge. Overall the Great Atlantic hurricane was estimated to have done one-third the damage of the 1938 hurricane.
Hopefully, Florence which is now Category 4 will spare Charleston. In the meantime, we are busy preparing for the worst and hope for the best. We’ll be boarding the first and second floor windows tomorrow. We are not boarding the third floor windows since they are much too high for flying debris.
If you are in the path of Florence, stay safe.
Great Atlantic Hurricane, September 1944
NHC Hurricane Preparedness Website
Hurricane History- Great Atlantic Hurricane 1944
“1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane.” Wikipedia.