Lithograph of the scene in downtown Providence Rhode Island during the Great Gale of 1815.
A quote from Ships and Shipmasters of old Providence:" During the Great Gale of September 23, 1815, ships were tossed about in Market Square; 35 sailboats were blown ashore; 500 buildings were destroyed: and the sloop-of-war Ganges poked her bowsprit into the offices of the Washington Insurance Company. A damage of $1,000,000 was sustained in Providence."
New England has been visited by three "Great Hurricanes" historically - each storm occurring roughly 150 years from the last. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 left the 15 year old Plimoth Plantation in shambles with Gov. John Bradford stating that the tree and forest damage would be noted for 100 years. Gov. John Winthrop noted severe destruction especially to the south of Massachusetts Bay Colony and remarked that 8 Indians were drowned in the Narragansett Bay area.
In 1815 the western Atlantic was having a very active year of storms and conditions were right to bring another powerful hurricane into New England. On September 23, 1815 a strong hurricane entered New England following two days of heavy rains. On the Yale Campus in New Haven, CT President Day recorded 6.91 inches ending on the 23rd. Having raked the lesser Antilles and the Turks on September 18th, the storm rode a trough up the east coast causing damage as far south as Delaware. The storm hit Long Island on the morning of the 23rd and was concluding by 2PM suggesting rapid northward speed
The southeast gales drove tides to 11 feet in Providence and caused extensive flooding along Buzzards Bay coming within 15 inches of cutting Cape Cod off from the mainland however, astronomical observer Mitchell on Nantucket reported that the storm was not severe there. Heavy rains fell in NYC but winds were not damaging. The most severe winds were to the east of the center in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island into central MA between Springfield and Worcester with the post rider noting more severe damage every mile to the east of Brimfield. The storm entered New Hampshire near Jaffrey still packing high winds as far as Concord where cattle were killed by falling trees. Heavy rains fell to the west of the path with high water noted in Windsor, Vermont. Losses were appalling for the time with two deaths in Providence and 5 in Newport where buildings were swept off Long Wharf. Over 500 buildings were destroyed in the Providence area and Moses Brown, a well known merchant in that city, suffered as much as $1 million in loses (1815 funds).
It would be another 120+ years before another great storm would strike New England with a very similar path to the 1815 gale - again riding a trough up the coast. The 1938 Hurricane was to raise the tide to 13 feet 8 1/2 inches surpassing the 11 feet in 1815 and resulted in 698 deaths.
For further reading on this Great New England Hurricane please see The 1938 Hurricane by WE Minsinger still available for sale by the Blue Hill Observatory
This graphic is from New England Hurricanes - Brown University from the Internet. The 1638 storm has little documentation but John Winthrop stated that the August 3, 1638 storm raised tides 14 or 15 feet above normal in Narragansett Bay (Ludlam, David Early American Hurricanes AMS).
Please Remember to click on our Kick Starter Campaign link to purchase a new Aerovane so Blue Hill Observatory will be ready to measure the winds in the next Great New England Hurricane