A History of Hurricanes in Newton
How do recent hurricanes stack up to other hurricanes in the city's history?
EDITOR'S NOTE 10/30/12: This 'Then & Now' column was published on Newton Patch on August 30, 2012, following Hurricane Irene. Now that Hurricane Sandy has plowed her way through the city, leaving similar damage, we thought it would be appropriate to re-feature this historical piece.
This past weekend was dominated by the presence of Irene. My very own yard has surrendered one tree and discussion continues as to who will be responsible for picking it up.
With the winds of Irene still blowing strong and her waters still surging, let us not forget those hurricanes past which have wrought devastation in the Garden City. Not to undermine her intensity, but by the time Hurricane Irene arrived she was a tropical storm, one of the lowest possible rankings by National Weather Service standards. Newtonians have seen much worse.
The Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most devastating storms New England has on record. According to the National Weather Service, this storm produced “the strongest winds ever recorded in the region…with sustained winds of 121 mph and a peak gust of 186 mph.” Nearby Providence, Rhode Island was reduced to a puddle by twenty-foot tides, and parts of Falmouth and New Bedford were under eight feet of water.
During the 1938 storm there were 564 deaths, an estimated 1,700 injuries, and approximately 2,600 boats and 8,900 homes were completely destroyed in the storm. Archives at Historic Newton’s Jackson Homestead contain pictures (accompanying this article) depicting the wreckage of this storm and others throughout the town. Newton police patrolled the flooded streets in small boats, rescuing people from their homes and paddling them to safety.
In 1950 the World Meteorological Organization began the practice of naming hurricanes, and by 1953 the alphabetical, chronological naming system had been adopted. Shortly thereafter, Diane introduced herself to Newton in1955. Hurricane Diane remains the wettest tropical cyclone to ever hit the northeastern United States.
There were over 200 deaths caused by flooding between Pennsylvania and New England during Hurricane Diane. In Newton, City Hall’s parking lot flooded and trees were down all over the city. To attend mass, parishioners at Our Lady Help of Christians Church braved a walk under a downed tree that crushed the iron gates outside.
Similar to Hurricane Irene, Diane was a Category 1 storm by the time it made landfall. What made it such a terrible storm was that it came on the heels of Hurricane Connie, which had hit only five days before.
For many, storms of any sort provide us with time to stay home (even when we do not want to), spend time with our loved ones, and make new memories during candlelit board games and puzzle parties. Let us be thankful for the time we have together, and remember that while we are getting closer to our families, others are losing their homes and even their lives. Banding together as families and communities, let us look out for one another, help our neighbors with their debris-strewn yards, and be thankful that Irene was not so strong as some of her older siblings.