River Views: Hurricanes have left their marks on New England


New Englanders are keeping a weather eye on Irma, a Category 5 hurricane that could affect the Northeast as others have.

It was Aug. 25, 1635 — yes, more than 380 years ago — when the Great Colonial Hurricane struck Narragansett Bay, killing at least 46 people. It is said it was the most intense hurricane to hit New England since European colonization. The only other storm of a similar magnitude was the 1938 hurricane that was called “the Long Island Express.” Rhode Island took the hardest hit from that late-September storm.

The “Long Island Express” and Hurricane Sandy’s hit on New Jersey in October 2012 are reminders that the Northeast is vulnerable to extreme weather.

Memorable Maine storms are on a much smaller scale.

Hurricane Bob approached New England on Aug. 19, 1991. News stories said Mainers were preparing for the blow “with batteries, blankets and bologna sandwiches.” Supermarkets and mom-and-pop stores reported runs on candles, Sterno, lamp oil and other basic supplies.

For many years, my wife, Judy, and I enjoyed summers at Hemlocks Campground in Poland, and a season-ending amateur musical show was a tradition. That year, Bob knocked out electrical power in the area just as we and other campers were putting final touches on the recreation hall’s decorations the night before the show.

How could we finish in time?

We drove a couple of cars close to the hall’s garage-style doors and kept working with the aid of the headlights.

Bob was one of the smallest but most intense hurricanes to hit southern New England since 1938. The storm’s strongest winds in Maine were 61 mph in Portland, with 50 mph gusts in the Twin Cities.

Among L-A residents who had stories to tell long after Hurricane Bob was Scott Michaud. He told a Lewiston Daily Sun reporter, “I was heading back to my house when a tree came down in front of my car. It was a big one, about 80 feet tall. It crashed down right across the street and brought all the wires down with it. I could see the transformer shooting sparks.”

Michaud said, “The wires were all over my car. I got out of there. If I’d been a few seconds earlier it would have landed right on top of me.”

Hurricane Gloria on Sept. 27, 1985, also holds an unusual memory for Judy and me. We had sailed on the Scotia Prince, the Portland-to-Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, ferry, and on the return trip we had been invited to the ship’s navigation bridge. The captain showed us around and casually mentioned that those radio messages we were hearing kept him well informed on the approaching hurricane.

What hurricane?

It was the first we had heard of it.

Of course, we made port without incident, but that kind of news certainly changes your focus of interest in a hurry. Hurricane Gloria turned out to be the first storm of significant strength to hit New England since 1960, and there was widespread forest damage in Maine.

Hurricanes Carol and Donna in the mid-’50s are also remembered by many. I was a teenager then, and I remember going outdoors as the eye of one or the other of the storms passed. My parents knew the brief calm and brightening sky were temporary. It took a lot of convincing by me for them to allow me a few minutes outdoors. They kept an eye on me although I was only a few feet away on the front lawn, and they called me back inside in a short time. My curiosity was satisfied, and soon the storm was raging again.

In Maine, the power of rampaging nature often comes as a winter blizzard. Or forest fires, such as the one across southern Maine in 1947. They show that natural forces can strike terrible blows anywhere.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]