Other Storms and Near-Misses

hurricane_sandy_satelliteHurricane Sandy in 2012 was a powerful storm and one of the most significant weather events in decades to hit the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region. Although the storm was a hurricane as it approached the coast, it was not a pure hurricane at landfall.

Hurricane Sandy began to merge with an upper level trough (non-tropical) and this caused the storm to take a “left-hand” turn into New Jersey.

Now, while there were wind gusts over 74 mph (hurricane threshold) in Connecticut, the storm came nowhere close to making landfall in the state. It was the unique evolution of this storm that caused hurricane-like damage across much of Connecticut’s coastline.

Tropical Storm Irene (2011) – Although Irene may have not been a hurricane, but the overall effects in Connecticut were the worst from a tropical system at the time since Hurriacne Gloria 26 years prior. The comparisons to Gloria have been made, especially since the exact storm track of Irene was very close to that of its’ 1985 predecessor.

The storm slammed into eastern North Carolina and actually maintained some strength, despite passing over land.
The storm weakened to a Tropical Storm over New Jersey and the center passed over New York City and eventually into extreme western Connecticut.

Despite losing its’ hurricane classification, Irene was still a powerful storm. Over 800,000 people lost power during the height of the storm, which at the time, was the most power outages ever reported in Connecticut. The previous top event was Hurricane Gloria with 534,000 outages, but the top spot would soon become the October snow storm later in 2011. The storm may be most well-known for not only the amount of power outages, but for how long it took power to be restored. In some cases, residents waited more than an entire week to get power back.

Winds were strong enough to cause extreme tree and power line damage. The highest wind gust reported was 63 miles per hour at Bridgeport. Heavy rains also caused widespread flooding, especially across western portions of the state. In that area, anywhere from 4 to 8 inches fell. The shoreline communities of Fairfield and New Haven Counties were hit the hardest. More than 20 homes were destroyed due to a combination of a storm surge, gusty winds and heavy rainfall.

Tropical Storm Floyd (1999) – As the large Hurricane Floyd approached the Carolinas, the entire East Coast up to New England braced for a full-blown hurricane. The storm moved inland into North Carolina, weakening to a Tropical Storm. A Hurricane Warning was initially issued for coastal Connecticut, but as the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm, the warning was lifted shortly thereafter.

Although winds were generally not damaging, flooding rains became the major issue. Floyd ended up being one of the most significant rainfall events of the 20th century for parts of Connecticut. Danbury reported just over 11 inches of rain. In fact, it was the worst flooding in western Connecticut since a pair of storms in the mid-1950’s.

Hurricane Bob (1991) – This storm was a powerful category 3 hurricane as it moved away from North Carolina and headed towards New England. Although Rhode Island, Long Island and eastern Massachusetts were preparing for the worst, Connecticut was placed under a State of Emergency before the storm made landfall.

Bob passed directly over Block Island, where winds reportedly peaked at 105 miles per hour. Due to instrument limitations, it is entirely possible that winds were even higher and closer to the 115 mile per hour estimate from a National Hurricane Center report. The eye of the storm passed into extreme eastern Rhode Island and eventually grazed the city of Boston.

Here in Connecticut, most of the strong winds were limited to extreme southeastern sections, although the entire eastern half of the state recorded heavy rainfall. Peak winds reached 100 miles per hour (in a gust), from a U.S. Coast Guard report just southwest of Groton. Rainfall totals reached 6 inches near Mansfield, while much of Windham and New London counties had moderate flooding.

Connie and Diane (1955) – Hurricanes Connie and Diane may not have directly hit Connecticut, but they did bring some of the worst flooding in generations.

Both storms hit North Carolina, causing them to weaken to some degree before making this far north. It’s the fact that both storms happened in the same week that made the situation in Connecticut so bad.

Total rainfall amounts from the storms generally ranged from 10 to 20 inches. Keep in mind that this all happened within 7 days. The average rainfall for the entire summer season (3 months) is about 12 inches. We’re basically talking about 3 to 5 months worth of rain happening within a week.

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms Pose a Threat to Connecticut
It does not take a direct hit by a hurricane to cause major damage. Since 1893, more than 20 tropical systems either hit us as a Tropical Storm (like Irene) or passed very close (Hurricane Bob). That means that, on average, we should expect a tropical system to impact Connecticut once every 5 or 6 years. Some years have seen more than one system, while other times we may go several years without any serious threat.

How Often Does a Hurricane Strike Connecticut?
From 1893 to 1985, six hurricanes have made a direct landfall on the state. That means that “on average” a hurricane directly slams into Connecticut once every 15 years. Gloria was the last hurricane, 27 years ago. Keep in mind that Hurricane Bob came very close and both Floyd and Irene were nearly hurricanes when they hit us. Hurricane Sandy impacted the area, but the center of the storm remained well south of Connecticut.

All of Connecticut is Vulnerable
Even though the coastline often receives the brunt of a hurricane, history has shown us that inland areas can be heavily impacted as well. Heavy rain from tropical systems can cause devastating flooding. We live in a heavily wooded state, so even winds of just 50 miles per hour can cause widespread tree and power line damage. Throw hurricane force winds of 74 miles per hour into the mix and the danger grows. Once a storm reaches major strength, like 1938, the damage can be catastrophic.

Take Warnings Seriously
Warnings are intended to keep people safe. If a Hurricane Warning is issued for your area, prepare for the worst, but as always, hope for the best. Evacuation orders should also be taken seriously. Have a game plan ready in case a storm does pose a threat.

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Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com. After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design. He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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