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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 08/28/2008

When Hurricane Carol Came Calling

By Steve Tracton

I've been a weather nut for as long as I can remember (could you tell?). I recall -- with some reminding by my parents -- becoming overly excited at the age of five or six by snowstorms. I saw my fair share of them growing up in Brockton, Mass., about 20 miles south of Boston, in the early 1950s. My fascination with snow and for weather more generally was reinforced, if not intensified, by the enthusiasm for anything weather of Don Kent, the legendary Boston radio and TV meteorologist.

It wasn't until the summer of 1954 before I became equally enamored with hurricanes. I'd heard of these storms before, but to me (at the time) they were always something that happened somewhere else. Fifty-four years ago this week, all that would change with Hurricane Carol and again, only 11 days later, with Hurricane Edna.

Keep reading for more memories of Hurricane Carol. For local weather, see our full forecast as well as NatCast and SkinsCast for tonight's games.

According to the official history, Carol formed in the southern Bahamas on Aug. 25, 1954. By Aug. 30, Carol was a hurricane about 100-150 miles east of Charleston, S.C. It then accelerated north-northeastward, making landfall as a Category 3 storm along Long Island and Connecticut on the morning of the 31st. By noontime, the center of Carol was moving north about 35 miles west of Boston with sustained winds of 80 to 100 mph and gusts of 100 to 125 mph reported in eastern Massachusetts.


Track of Hurricane Carol, 1954. Courtesy NOAA.

I vividly remember listening anxiously to radio reports the afternoon and early evening of the 30th talking about the prospects of feeling Carol's effects. I wasn't sure whether I'd be more scared if the storm passed close to my home, or more disappointed if it did not. As an article in Time magazine reported, "The weathermen, studying their charts, expected her to veer more sharply to the east and pass harmlessly east of Nantucket." One exception to this thinking, though, was Don Kent hinting at the possibility of the storm taking a more westerly track. With both scenarios in play, I went to bed feeling neither disappointed nor scared.

On the morning of the 31st, I tuned into Don Kent on the radio. He was contagiously excitable, as he always was when faced with a big-time weather event. He predicted that Carol was probably going to be much more severe in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island than the official forecasts were indicating. This, of course, was well before the era of satellite observations, Doppler radar, and operational use of computer forecast models. It was also a time with much less knowledge and understanding of the nature and evolution of hurricanes.

I serendipitously met with Don several years ago in Boston and asked him about this very forecast. By then, a meteorologist myself, I wasn't surprised when he said the tipoff was a southeast wind at Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. As true with any approaching storm, the wind would have been from the northeast if Carol was passing out to sea, just like it is with "Nor'easters." Ever since I became more knowledgeable about weather during my junior high school days, the first thing I check when a hurricane or or snowstorm is bearing down on New England are the reports from the "islands." More broadly, the take-home message is to look at the latest observations before making a forecast, not just the fancy computer models now at our disposal.

As Kent predicted, winds picked up later that morning and torrential rains began. Until then, I never thought wind could be that strong or rain that hard. My home was surrounded by trees, many looking as if they could topple onto the roof. Fortunately none did, but many were uprooted, including my favorite climbing tree. The only damage we suffered was from rain being forced through the window sills. Wow, I thought, my family survived, and what slight damage there was seemed worth the thrill of this first face-to-face confrontation with a full fledged hurricane. The only downside, it appeared, was that our brand new (and first-ever) TV -- just purchased, but not yet installed -- would have to sit in the box until power was restored. As it turned out, that took over two weeks.

This feeling of relative complacency didn't last long, however. After the storm, just a short walk down the street revealed extensive damage from wind, falling trees and flooding. Neighborhood friends and acquaintances were rendered homeless, and in some cases seriously injured. Moreover, the widespread damage ($460 million) and death toll (60) in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which I learned about over the next several days, engendered in me a permanent respect for extreme weather. Such respect remains a key component of my everlasting amazement, awe, excitement, curiosity and thrill for meteorology, professionally and otherwise.

ll this was unexpectedly reinforced by the remarkably similar Hurricane Edna, which followed on the heels of Carol less than two weeks later. Edna followed a path just east of Carol, making landfall as a Category 3 storm over Cape Cod. But that's a story I'll reserve for another post. The present calls for focusing attention on the whereabouts and track of Gustav.

By Steve Tracton  | August 28, 2008; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Tracton, Tropical Weather  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Gustav Grows Again; Hello Hanna
Next: PM Update: Isolated Showers, Continued Cool

Comments

I am just curious if there is a possiblity that Hanna will not be shifted soutwestward towards Bahamas and Florida and take a NW path towards east coast. Similiar to Isabel. Is this a possiblity or not likely to occur ? I realize high pressure would have to relax to some extent. Can someone more educated help me.

Thanks

Posted by: VA | August 28, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

VA: Interestingly, Hannah may well be in the same area where Carol formed in 1954 five days from now. We'll have to see if it follows a similar track.I think it's too early to make that call. It will depend on the alignment and timing of weather systems, which can't be predicted with much precision this far out. Florida is in play as is most of the East Coast; or, it could be swept out to sea by a frontal system.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | August 28, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Great story Steve! Part of me longs for the days before super computers and 24 hour news/weather cycles. Just measuring the wind, waves, and sky.

That said, i'm going back to work on my super computers...

Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | August 28, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Steve, that's a great story!

My grandparents were married near New Haven, CT the following August and had to take a boat around town the day of their wedding due to flooding from another hurricane. The food for the reception was ruined, but they still had a fun time. I bet New England was tired of hurricanes after those two years.

Even though I grew up with satellites and super computer models, I still feel that sense of excitement that wells up against my trepidation. Even with my respect for nature, it's almost like you have to see it to believe it.

Posted by: kate | August 28, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Kate

Your grandparents were probably dealing with the flooding from two Hurricanes back-to-back in mid-August 1955 - Connie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Connie) and Diane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Diane).

The combined rainfall of the two storms over the period between 13 and 20 August was over 24 inches at some locations in Connecticut. There are some neat pictures of the flooding at: http://www.cslib.org/flood1955.htm

I recall being trapped for days in my home in Brockton, MA. The water never reached the house, but I have indelible memories of the gently sloping street we were on looking as if it were a raging river

Posted by: Steve Tracton | August 28, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I too remember Hurricane Carol very well. I lived in Hingham on the South Shore. My mother was in the hospital giving birth to my brother. In those days childbirth hospital stays were long. I remember the huge elm tree that crashed into Ms. Allen's house who lived next door and my father going to get her. I remember our adirondack furniture crashing to smitherines in the woods behind our neighbor's house. I remember my father cooking "dinner" in our kitchen fireplace with some wax and old orange juice cans. And I remember being afraid. It was so scary to go upstairs with no lights and just a flash light. I was 7.

Was Edna the hurricane with all the water and not the wind? This too I remember but it's pretty hazy.

Posted by: Emily | August 31, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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