Edgewood Yacht Club, Cranston, RI, buffeted by storm surge of Hurricane Carol (photo CFlagg)
A television special not long ago showed the consequences of living in an uninformed era, when it came to weather. In that day, weather experts didn’t try to soften a natural brute by giving it a human name. That would come later. Hurricanes used to bear the simple moniker of the year they were born.
Female names would be assigned next, perhaps reasoning: if folks were slammed by “Celeste,” damage might be more bearable. People now learned that Hurricanes Arlene, Barbara, and Cecile were on the move, and finally, in a nod to gender equality, Doug and Ernest joined the ranks.
Today, these storms are assigned male/female names, alphabetically, with a nod to ethnic diversity, too (Carlos and Maria are newest additions).
But earlier meteorologists lacked an even more important element–those precision instruments that tell them where any given storm is… how significant it will be…. who lies in its path.
A recent docudrama reminded me of how scary those uninformed times were.
Specifically, the program was about the Hurricane of ’38. Actors portrayed folks along Long Island, eastern Connecticut, Westerly, Watch Hill, Narragansett, Jamestown, and Providence who were taken by surprise as the monster hit.
One man who’d suffered a heart attack watched, helplessly, as his wife and children hefted shutters and boards to nail against windows to ward off the siege. They knew the storm’s fury only after it had begun.
Katherine Hepburn and relatives were shown besieged by mounting waters in her oversized Victorian, in the upscale oceanside town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. They escaped that home…barely.
An especially disturbing segment showed a school bus filled with young children returning from school, stranded on a road hugging the sea, at a low point of Jamestown, Rhode Island. Waters submerged the causeway at Mackerel Cove, as the bus driver crossed. A parent watched helplessly from a higher point on the opposite shore as that driver proceeded to ferry panicky children across the newly-made water channel, making a human chain in the process.
And a family of 8 (with neighbors who sought refuge) took to the attic of their home, as the three lower floors filled with water. As the roof blew off in chunks, they hugged each other and prayed the house would sustain, knowing their neighbors’ nearby homes had already disintegrated and been swept out to sea.
This writer remembers another storm that wrought considerable damage on Rhode Island—Hurricane Carol—in ‘54. As a child, during that period (I was 9), I remember no electricity for weeks, necessitating my parents cook meals over a backyard fireplace.
Neighbors pooled resources and ate together at backyard picnic tables. The local Polish market gave out kielbasa and smoked meats, rather than allow them to spoil, and we kids lined up to get that free meat for our families. Those were the positive effects of the storm.
But the bad memories far outweighed the good.
I especially remember the huge weather-beaten-shingle beach house floating eerily in the center of Salt Pond, right near Bonnet Shores beach. I wondered what happened to its occupants.
People everywhere lacked supplies and water.
That storm closed down the state for weeks and ushered in the realization a Hurricane Barrier was needed; the streets of downtown Providence were awash in floodwaters several feet high; buildings today still bear the marks of the storm surge.
Now, occasionally, I’ll hear someone voice anger at meteorologists in a “Why can’t they get it right?” while I say: “Predicting the weather has to be a tough job, since there are so many variables.”
Biddy is grateful for today’s weather experts. If they err on the side of caution (and get us running out for supplies in preparation for a supposed climate attack), it’s far better than the alternative…when there is no warning.
****For more details on the Hurricane of ’38 and the children lost on Jamestown causeway, access the following link and scroll down to the part on Rhode Island:
(Photo by Charles Hall, Riverside ’38 hurricane, appearing on the ABC6 Hurricane.com website..referenced by Fred Capagna)