September 23: The First Hurricane in 180 Years Slams into Connecticut

 

On the morning of September 23, 1815, the first major hurricane to hit New England in 180 years made landfall at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Since the word “hurricane” was virtually unknown in early America, residents later identified the monstrous storm as the “Great Storm” or “Great Gale” of September 1815. With estimated sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, the Great September Gale of 1815 would have been classified as a Category 3 major hurricane by today’s standards, and was the largest storm to hit the region since the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635.

The Great Gale devastated Connecticut’s shoreline communities, with the highest winds and tides affecting the state’s easternmost coastal towns. Six-foot waves were reported in New London harbor, while Stonington residents observed tide levels so high they eclipsed previous records by a whopping seventeen feet. Ships were smashed against docks, and shoreline farms were ruined with thousands of livestock killed and crops flattened by powerful winds. The devastation was even higher in neighboring Rhode Island, where storm surges caused record flooding throughout Narragansett Bay. By the time the storm blew over, at least 38 lives across New England were lost, and countless millions of dollars’ worth of damage done, not counting ships and lives lost at sea.

This engraving from a 1886 history of Rhode Island depicts the destruction and chaos of the Great September Gale of 1815 as it passed over Providence, RI.

Further Reading

Sean Munger, “The Great September Gale of 1815,” Slate

1815: The Great September Gale,” University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography