Reaching the City on September 3, 1821, the storm was one of the only hurricanes believed to have passed directly over parts of modern New York City. The tide rose 13 feet in one hour and inundated wharves, causing the East River to converge into the Hudson River across lower Manhattan as far north as Canal Street. However, few deaths were attributed to the storm because flooding was concentrated in neighborhoods with far fewer homes than exist today.
The most powerful hurricane known to have made landfall nearby — a category 3 hurricane — occurred in 1938. Its eye crossed over Long Island and into New England, killing nearly 200 people. The storm killed 10 people in New York City and caused millions of dollars in damage. Its floods knocked out electrical power in all areas above 59th Street in Manhattan and in all of the Bronx, the new IND subway line lost power, and 100 large trees in Central Park were destroyed.
Fortunately, New York City experienced the weaker “left side” of the 1938 hurricane — the City was 75 miles from the eye when it passed over Long Island. The hurricane could have caused far more deaths and damage if it passed closer to the five boroughs.
An excellent history of the 1938 hurricane is provided at Scott Mandia’s website: The Long Island Express: The Great Hurricane of 1938.
Mid-Twentieth Century Hurricanes
In 1954, Hurricane Carol made landfall in Eastern Long Island and Southeastern Connecticut. With sustained winds over 100 mph and gusts of 115 to 125 mph, it was the most destructive hurricane to hit the Northeast coast since the Long Island Express in 1938. Fortunately for City residents, the storm’s track was forty miles further east, and spared it a direct hit, but did result in major flooding throughout the City.
In 1960, Hurricane Donna created an 11-foot storm tide in the New York Harbor that caused extensive pier damage.
CONNIE & DIANE
Leftover rains from hurricanes Diane and Connie caused significant flooding in the City in August 1955, even though the eye of those storms did not cross directly over any of the five boroughs. Diane caused more than 200 deaths in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Connie dropped more than 12 inches of rain at LaGuardia Airport.
In June 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes fused with another storm system in the northeastern U.S., flooding areas from North Carolina to New York State, causing 122 deaths and more than $6 billion dollars in damage (when adjusted for inflation).
The US Army Corps of Engineers has said that 1985’s Hurricane Gloria could have been catastrophic if it arrived at high tide and just a little closer to the City.
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