This Month In History
September 2016

This Month in NYS History – The Great New England Hurricane of ’38 Slams Long Island and New York City – September 21-23, 1938

Residents witness the destruction of the ’38 Hurricane in Southold, New York.
Residents witness the destruction of the ’38 Hurricane in Southold, New York.
In the midst of the Great Depression, New York was hit by one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in history in 1938. The Great New England Hurricane, also known as the Long Island Express, caused widespread damage, casualties in the hundreds, and remains one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the eastern coast of the United States.

After forming off of the western coast of Africa, the ’38 Hurricane would strengthen to a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, a measurement of the speed and strength of a hurricane. When it did make landfall on September 21st, 1938, the storm had weakened to a Category 3, which still remained incredibly destructive. The town of Bellport, Long Island received the first hit from the storm, and the hurricane then began to move inland.

Untold devastation of crops, fisheries, infrastructure and human life occurred throughout the course of the storm. Montauk, located on the North Fork of Long Island, essentially became its own island for a short period of time as sea water rose and cut off roadway and land access. The town of Greenport, a few miles west of Montauk, had its entire movie theater destroyed. Parts of the Long Island Rail Road remained in total waste, halting commuters for weeks. Long Island communities such as Sag Harbor, Wading River and Port Washington saw boats destroyed and docks wiped away.

New York City saw severe, yet not as dramatic damage, from the storm. A wind reading at the top of the Empire State Building read 120 miles per hour, and many areas saw flooding and power loss. The storm would end up dissipating over the Quebec region of Canada, but the damage the storm wrought upon the area was extensive.

Damage to both New York and the New England region has been estimated to have been around $308 million, which when adjusted to inflation is around $4.7 billion in 2016. The ’38 Hurricane remained one of the deadliest and costliest storms in New York’s history until it was surpassed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It has been reported that damage effects could be seen until around 1951, showing the widespread impact the storm had on the tri-state region.