Threat Grows For Hurricane Lee To Be Rare Significant Storm To Hit Eastern New England

As meteorologists predict a possible New England landfall for Hurricane Lee, the prospect is bringing memories of other past storms that slammed into Massachusetts throughout the 20th century. 

An aerial view of Hurricane Bob, which hit Massachusetts in 1991.
An aerial view of Hurricane Bob, which hit Massachusetts in 1991. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

According to the latest computer models from the National Weather Service, Hurricane Lee may make landfall in eastern Maine on Monday morning, Sept. 18, bringing powerful winds, heavy rains, and high surf along with it and possibly devastating parts of Eastern Massachusetts.

While it is rare, the storm would not be the first powerful hurricane to hit the Northeast. Looking back at previous storms may provide a blueprint of what to expect. 

The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management compiled the details of some of the worst hurricanes to hit Massachusetts in the 20th century. 

They are: 

Hurricane Bob: 

This powerful storm developed in the central Bahamas on Aug. 16, 1991, and traveled parallel to the East Coast before slamming into Block Island, Rhode Island, and then Massachusetts on Aug. 19. 

The Category 2 storm did not have as high wind speeds or severe storm surges as other hurricanes that hit the Northeast in the 20th century but still caused $39 million in damages in Massachusetts. 

As a result of the hurricane, coastal communities in Southeast Massachusetts faced sustained winds of 75 to 100 miles per hour, which damaged trees and utility poles and left 60 percent of residents in the region without power. 

The storm also caused a storm surge of up to 12 to 15 feet in communities such as Onset, Bourne, Mashpee, and Wareham, which left homes destroyed. 

Hurricanes Carol and Edna: 

A pair of brutal Category 3 hurricanes, Carol and Edna, hit New England in late August and early September 1954. 

The ordeal began when Carol developed in the Bahamas and slowly moved north until rapidly accelerating past Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and toward eastern Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, making landfall on Aug. 31. 

The storm produced sustained winds of 80 to 100 mph and destroyed 4,000 homes, 3,500 cars, and 3,000 boats. The high winds downed trees and power lines and ruined 40 percent of apple, corn, peach, and tomato crops. 

Just a few days later, Hurricane Edna made its way up the East Coast and passed over Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket on Sept. 11, bringing winds of 75-95 mph and hampering rescue efforts from the previous storm while causing even more damage. 

Edna also brought a six-foot storm surge, which pummeled the shoreline areas already heavily eroded from Carol and caused extensive flooding. Twenty-one people in New England died as a result of the storms.

Great New England Hurricane of 1938:

The worst hurricane to hit Massachusetts in the 20th century developed off the Cape Verde Islands on Sept. 4, 1938, and took a less common route over the Gulf Stream before making landfall on Long Island on Sept. 21. 

The freak storm brought sustained winds as high as 121 mph and even some gusts up to 186 mph. The hurricane also brought a storm surge that caused 18 to 25-foot tides from New London, Connecticut, to Cape Cod. 

The hurricane even affected western Massachusetts, causing the Connecticut River in Springfield to rise six to 10 feet above flood stage. 

The storm killed 564 people, destroyed 8,900 buildings in New England, and dismantled 2,600 boats.

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