When Hurricane Carol Came Calling
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.
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.
Posted by: VA | August 28, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | August 28, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | August 28, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kate | August 28, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Steve Tracton | August 28, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Emily | August 31, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.