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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1815- The Great September Gale

The Great September Gale of 1815 was the first major hurricane to impact New England in 180 years. Believed to have originated in the West Indies on September 18, 1815, the hurricane slowly spun northeastward. It struck the Turks Islands in the Bahamas on 20 September as what is believed to have been a Category 4 hurricane. The storm then continued northward, making landfall across Long Island, NY, around 7 AM on the morning of 23 September. The hurricane traveled along the Southern New England coast, making a second landfall near Saybrook, CT at 9 AM. The eye of the hurricane moved through central Massachusetts, passing between Amherst and Worcester, MA, at 11 AM. The storm then passed through New Hampshire, where it quickly dissipated by 2 PM that same day.

The Great September Gale produced significant wind damage in Connecticut, Rhode Island, east-central Massachusetts, and southeastern New Hampshire. Parts of Providence, RI, experienced tides 4.3 m (14 ft) greater than usual and in Buzzards Bay, MA, the tide is calculated to have risen 4.8 m (15.9 ft) above normal. At least 38 fatalities were a result of the Great September Gale. The hurricane also caused the destruction of some 500 homes and 35 ships in Narragansett, RI, as a 3.4m (11ft) storm surge funneled up Narragansett Bay.

Fast Facts:

  • Through historical reports it was determined that the eye of this hurricane made its first landfall in Long Island, NY (near Center Moriches), approximately 8-16 km (5-10 miles) east of where the eye of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 (“The Long Island Express”) would strike the coast over a century later.
  • John Farrar, a Hollis professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard University, maintained weather records between 1807-1817. In the aftermath of the Great Gale, he presented the concept of a hurricane as a "moving vortex". He also observed the veering of hurricane winds, and the variable timing of their impacts on the cities of Boston and New York.
  • Salt spray and salt deposition were noted in many areas after the hurricane. Historical reports recount the rain “tasting like salt”, the grapes in the vineyards “tasting like salt”, the houses had all turned white, and the leaves on the trees appeared “lightly frosted”.