This Blizzard Has Been Named the Worst Hurricane in New Hampshire History

New Hampshire, though not commonly associated with hurricanes, has witnessed its fair share of formidable storms. The most notorious among them was the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, also referred to as the Long Island Express Hurricane.

Striking with unprecedented force on September 21, 1938, this hurricane proved to be one of the deadliest and most destructive tropical cyclones to hit the United States, leaving an enduring impact on New Hampshire and its neighboring states. Let’s delve into the history and aftermath of this historic hurricane.

Formation: The Unforeseen Tempest

The origins of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 can be traced back to a tropical wave emerging off the coast of Africa on September 9, 1938. Gradually intensifying as it traversed the Atlantic, it evolved into a tropical storm on September 13 and then a hurricane by September 16. Taking a northward turn, the hurricane attained Category 5 intensity on September 19, boasting winds of 160 mph.

During this period, the absence of a reliable hurricane tracking and forecasting system caught many off guard. With no satellites, radars, or aircraft to monitor its progress, predictions were based on sparse and inaccurate observations from ships and islands.

Contrary to expectations, the storm defied forecasts, maintaining a record-breaking speed of 60 mph as it made landfall on Long Island, New York, at 2:30 p.m. on September 21. Subsequently, it ravaged Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine before dissipating over Canada.

Impact: A Lethal Fusion of Wind, Rain, and Surge

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was an immense and forceful storm, boasting a diameter of 500 miles and a central pressure of 941 mb. Unleashing ferocious winds, torrential rain, and a devastating storm surge, it wrought widespread damage. Compounded by a high tide and a full moon, which elevated water levels, and coinciding with the peak of the fall foliage season, the hurricane caused extensive destruction.

The hurricane’s winds were particularly destructive, exceeding 100 mph in many areas and reaching up to 186 mph in certain locations. Toppling hundreds of thousands of trees, power lines, and structures, the winds caused power outages, fires, and communication breakdowns.

Simultaneously, the storm’s heavy rainfall, reaching up to 17 inches in some regions, resulted in severe flooding, erosion, landslides, and mudslides. The surge, reaching heights of up to 25 feet, inundated coastlines and low-lying areas, destroying homes, businesses, and landmarks and claiming lives.

Aftermath: A Legacy of Loss and Recovery

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 stands as one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history and particularly in New Hampshire. With an estimated 682 fatalities, over 4,000 injuries, and more than 63,000 left homeless, the hurricane caused over $306 million in damage (equivalent to over $5 billion today) across nine states.

New Hampshire bore a significant brunt, witnessing 13 fatalities, over 200 injuries, and over $3 million in damages. The storm left a trail of destruction, damaging or destroying over 2,000 homes, 3,000 vehicles, 75 bridges, and 20 dams. It also impacted over 80% of the state’s forests and wiped out over 50% of the apple crop, disrupting tourism, transportation, and communication industries and impeding the state’s recovery from the Great Depression.

The hurricane’s impact resonates in New Hampshire’s culture and memory, inspiring numerous stories, songs, books, and documentaries. It catalyzed improvements in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery systems, leading to the establishment of Civil Defense, the expansion of the National Weather Service, and the development of the hurricane warning system.


The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 stands as New Hampshire’s worst hurricane and one of the most catastrophic events in U.S. history. Unleashing unprecedented wind, rain, and surges, caused massive damage and loss of life, altering the state’s landscape and economy. A lesson in the unexpected, this storm made history, leaving an indelible mark on the collective memory.

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