After living through 10 consecutive years without a single hurricane, complacent Connecticans and all New Enganders received a rude and disastrous awakening the morning of August 31, 1954, when giant Category 5 hurricane Carol, with winds gusting to 130 miles per hour, moved swiftly across Long Island, and then slammed into the area between Groton and Old Saybrook.
The storm, which had formed off the Florida coast only six days before, had been expected by forecasters to spend its force on North and South Carolina. But the rapidly intensifying storm surprised forecasters, when it only brushed the Carolina coast, turned and headed north.
The storm caused devastation across New England, damaging more than 10,000 homes , killing as many as 65 people, and causing $460 million damage.
In Connecticut, hundreds of oceanfront cottages were damaged or destroyed. At Old Saybrook and elsewhere along the coast, hundreds of small craft were smashed against docks and break walls, crushed by surging waves, or driven onto shoals, beaches and sandbars. Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was flooded with up to 12 feet of water, and in Boston, Carol blew the steeple off the Od North Church (the “one if by land, two if by sea” church of Paul Revere’s famous ride). Overall, more than 3,000 boats were destroyed, as well as 3500 automobiles.
Power lines were downed, and phones cut off across the region, as water and falling limbs damaged homes and businesses. A third of all New Englanders lost power; many remained in the dark for several days.
Thousands of trees were destroyed by the blasting winds, while millions of limbs and branches were broken on trees that survived. Connecticut’s apple farmers lost 20 to 50 percent of their McIntosh apples, the state’s most important fruit crop. Losses to that crop alone totaled as many as 300,000 bushels. Additional concerns were raised because the storm carried beetles and other insects that transmitted Dutch elm disease and other arbor infections miles from their origins, further spreading the devastating tree blight. Along the Connecticut River, shade tobacco leaves, though already harvested, were damaged by storm rains coming through the tobacco barns’ ventilator openings. Throughout New England, Up to 40 percent of the region’s apple, peach, corn, and tomato crops were completely lost.
Carol’s impact on the region was so severe, National Weather service stopped using “Carol” as a name for future hurricanes for a decade. After one more appearance in 1965, the name “Carol” was permanently retired.
“Hurricane Carol, So Deadly Her Name Was Retired,” New England Historical Society
“Hurricane Carol – The Monster of 1954,” Way Too Much Weather