09/21/13 8:00am

SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY PHOTO | A houseboat sinks near S.T. Preston’s dock in Greenport Harbor during the ‘Long Island Express’ hurricane of 1938.

It was named the “Long Island Express.”

But that was only after it passed, leaving Shelter Island battered but not broken as it trekked north deep into New England along its murderous path.

On September 21, 1938, when the massive storm made landfall, there were no named storms, but even more significantly, there were no National Weather Service advisories to help people prepare for what was coming. Preparation or not, it has gone down in history as one of the most powerful and costliest storms to strike the region.

Slamming into the Northeast as a Category 3 hurricane, it produced wind speeds gusting more than 120 miles per hour, according to National Weather Service estimates. A wall of water estimated at 17 feet high crashed over Long Island, damaging more than 24,000 homes.

As many as 700 people were killed over several states. The Island lost one.

“Homes were washed away, roads were washed away, Long Island Rail Road tracks were washed out… the apple crop was destroyed, a lot of livestock and farming was destroyed,” National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark said in a recent interview.

That long-ago tempest is vividly remembered now by just a handful of Islanders, then school children witnessing the hurricane’s winds shrieking across Shelter Island that late September day, 75 years ago.

WICKED, INDEED

Jackie and Maurice “Tut” Tuttle were 5 and 6, respectively, at the time of the storm. She was living in Southold while Maurice, a Harelegger, was in school that historic day.

What Mr. Tuttle remembers is being taken with other children to the McGayheys’ summer house on St. Mary’s Road to ride out the storm. They slept overnight there until it was safe to return home the following day. He remembers the streets being strewn with fallen trees.

He’s not sure if he understood the seriousness of the situation then, saying, “I just knew it was a rough situation. That was a wicked storm.”

Wicked, indeed, his wife agreed. Ms. Tuttle recalls being picked up in advance of the storm by her mother for a shopping trip to Greenport. They entered Katz’s Department Store and were told that a major storm was about to happen. They didn’t have to be told something extraordinary was happening, watching water quickly massing at the back of the store as the tide rose. They took refuge at a friend’s house on Atlantic Avenue in Green-port. An unshakable memory for Ms. Tuttle was watching the storm lift the roof off Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“It rolled up like an ice cream cone and blew down the creek,” she said.

Finally able to start for home, she and her mother began walking down Sound Avenue where the Soundview Inn is today — it was Stanley Case’s fishing store in 1938. “Trees were down everywhere,” she said.

Ahead, she and her mother saw her father coming toward them, axe in hand, cutting his way through debris strewn in the road.

PICKING UP THE PIECES

What 91-year-old Ben Jones remembers is the aftermath. His mother owned a rental property in Shelter Island Heights, just the third house up from North Ferry. The Jones family lived in Maplewood, New Jersey, and young Ben would come out to help his mother maintain the house.

“I didn’t like Shelter Island,” he confesses now, because, “to me Shelter Island was nothing but work.”

Mr. Jones’ mother had been “frantic” during the storm, imagining her Island meal ticket destroyed, but she got a call from a neighbor after the winds and rain had subsided, telling her that the house was undamaged.

Now 75 years past, Mr. Jones still remembers the long, treacherous ride from New Jersey to check out the property first hand. “Driving here was a huge challenge,” he said. “There were constant detours.” But they finally made it across on the ferry to discover the house was in good condition, due to neighbors boarding it up just before the storm hit.

Mr. Jones remembers his mother’s reaction: “She was overjoyed.”

Dorothy Dickerson Clark was a high school junior in 1938. She was among those who spent the night at the school and remembers watching the storm’s fury through the windows, cheering as they watched trees topple

Ms. Clark recalled arriving home the next day to find that the winds had knocked down a large oak tree in her front yard.

Mr. Jones brought up another memory: Communication was difficult because many lines were down and, in those days, most people had party line telephones so what service there was in the wake of the storm was shared and difficult to access. On the other hand, the electricity blackout on the Island was less troublesome because people depended on coal to heat their houses and used ice boxes, not refrigerators.

As the Island began its recovery, the Jones family learned it was going to lose a prized oak that stood between their house and the Coopers’ house. At the peak of the storm, the tree was seen bent over the Coopers’ roof. But then, a miracle — a blast of wind righted it to its original place standing straight up. On further inspection, it was far from a miracle. The core root had snapped and the tree had to come down. Mr. Jones remembers his mother’s sorrow at the loss of the tree.

Bill Krapf stopped by the Reporter office recently to share a memory of living in Brooklyn when the Long Island Express arrived and saw concrete on the Belt Parkway being ripped up by the storm. He also witnessed a neighbor’s roof blown off during the storm.

“If you’ve seen one hurricane, you’ve seen them all,” he said. “They’re all about the same.”

Some circles are completed in a lifetime. Years after the storm, Mr. Jones, by then married to his wife Betty, moved into that family-owned house in the Heights. For 30 years now he’s been a volunteer in the ambulance corps.

He was among those who helped a woman in critical condition get to Southampton Hospital aboard South Ferry during Hurricane Sandy last October.

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09/21/13 7:59am
SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

No Shelter Islanders on land lost their lives during the Hurricane of 1938, but one seaman met his fate 75 years ago from “The Long Island Express.”

Captain Roy Griffing died aboard the seine boat in which the crew of the sinking fishing steamer, Ocean View, had taken refuge. The ship overturned in East End waters forcing the crew into the smaller boat that couldn’t weather the winds and waves, according to a newspaper account at the time.

Captain Griffing had engaged in “beam trawling” off Montauk for many years and was a well respected resident, according to a newspaper account.

A second seaman from West Neck had been feared lost aboard the Catskill on a New London-Orient Point route, but the boat rode through the storm to safety.

Islanders were not spared close encounters with death that September day. “Scores of bodies” washed ashore from the ocean between Center Moriches and Sag Harbor, according to an account from nurse Viola Farrow of Shelter Island Heights, who kept a scrapbook of her own observations along with newspaper clippings.

Those who drowned were said to have occupied cottages along a 50-mile stretch of shore between Montauk Highway and the Atlantic Ocean and stretching from Center Moriches to Westhampton, Ms. Farrow wrote. She said six bodies washed ashore at Westhampton alone and 30 who had lived in what became ruins of 160 summer bungalows were missing.

On Shelter Island, roads were blocked by fallen trees and forests were “reduced to acres of tangled branches,” according to an unidentified newspaper account contained in the scrapbook. The wooded drive at the then Dering Harbor Club was destroyed; the east veranda and side roof of the country club was partly blown off and the course was strewn with pieces of the caddy house. A beautiful forested area around Hay Beach Point that covered nearly 200 acres was wiped out. Dering Harbor Village roads and lawns were strewn with oaks and locusts.

Ram Island Road was impassable as huge waves tore up the Lower Beach road at Ram Island Estates, allowing the bay and harbor to meet across the roadway for hours. Great Ram Island’s forest was destroyed and the shore at Coecles Harbor was covered with boats that had snapped their moorings at the height of the storm. The Ram Island Beach Club was divided by the wind and waves, the main club room left standing, while the two bathhouse wings “floated merrily off to fi nd a new location on Emil Brogel’s domains,” a newspaper account said.

Garages at Ram’s Head Inn were blown down and serious damage was done to several houses in the area.

At South Ferry, a detour had to be created on the Bailey-Smith property to provide access to the rest of the Island.

Two large windows were shattered at what was then the Bohack store in the Center.

At Menantic, five boathouses belonging to then Supervisor Everett Tuthill were “reduced to kindling wood” and 28 trees on the property were “torn to pieces.” Mr. Tuthill and three others had a narrow escape when a section of roof from one of the boathouses blew off and cut through the roof of another just a moment after the four men had evacuated the building.

North Ferry boats were landing at the town dock until fallen trees in the Heights could be cleared two days after the storm.

It took three days after the storm for 50 telephone company workers to begin untangling wires from trees. The following day, workers were able to begin to restore electricity to the Heights.

“Kerosene lamps and candles are in great demand and those having a hand pump and well are aiding waterless neighbors,” the newspaper account said.

09/21/13 7:59am
SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

No Shelter Islanders on land lost their lives during the Hurricane of 1938, but one seaman met his fate 75 years ago from “The Long Island Express.”

Captain Roy Griffing died aboard the seine boat in which the crew of the sinking fishing steamer, Ocean View, had taken refuge. The ship overturned in East End waters forcing the crew into the smaller boat that couldn’t weather the winds and waves, according to a newspaper account at the time.

Captain Griffing had engaged in “beam trawling” off Montauk for many years and was a well respected resident, according to a newspaper account.

A second seaman from West Neck had been feared lost aboard the Catskill on a New London-Orient Point route, but the boat rode through the storm to safety.

Islanders were not spared close encounters with death that September day. “Scores of bodies” washed ashore from the ocean between Center Moriches and Sag Harbor, according to an account from nurse Viola Farrow of Shelter Island Heights, who kept a scrapbook of her own observations along with newspaper clippings.

Those who drowned were said to have occupied cottages along a 50-mile stretch of shore between Montauk Highway and the Atlantic Ocean and stretching from Center Moriches to Westhampton, Ms. Farrow wrote. She said six bodies washed ashore at Westhampton alone and 30 who had lived in what became ruins of 160 summer bungalows were missing.

On Shelter Island, roads were blocked by fallen trees and forests were “reduced to acres of tangled branches,” according to an unidentified newspaper account contained in the scrapbook. The wooded drive at the then Dering Harbor Club was destroyed; the east veranda and side roof of the country club was partly blown off and the course was strewn with pieces of the caddy house. A beautiful forested area around Hay Beach Point that covered nearly 200 acres was wiped out. Dering Harbor Village roads and lawns were strewn with oaks and locusts.

Ram Island Road was impassable as huge waves tore up the Lower Beach road at Ram Island Estates, allowing the bay and harbor to meet across the roadway for hours. Great Ram Island’s forest was destroyed and the shore at Coecles Harbor was covered with boats that had snapped their moorings at the height of the storm. The Ram Island Beach Club was divided by the wind and waves, the main club room left standing, while the two bathhouse wings “floated merrily off to fi nd a new location on Emil Brogel’s domains,” a newspaper account said.

Garages at Ram’s Head Inn were blown down and serious damage was done to several houses in the area.

At South Ferry, a detour had to be created on the Bailey-Smith property to provide access to the rest of the Island.

Two large windows were shattered at what was then the Bohack store in the Center.

At Menantic, five boathouses belonging to then Supervisor Everett Tuthill were “reduced to kindling wood” and 28 trees on the property were “torn to pieces.” Mr. Tuthill and three others had a narrow escape when a section of roof from one of the boathouses blew off and cut through the roof of another just a moment after the four men had evacuated the building.

North Ferry boats were landing at the town dock until fallen trees in the Heights could be cleared two days after the storm.

It took three days after the storm for 50 telephone company workers to begin untangling wires from trees. The following day, workers were able to begin to restore electricity to the Heights.

“Kerosene lamps and candles are in great demand and those having a hand pump and well are aiding waterless neighbors,” the newspaper account said.

09/21/13 7:58am

NOAA COURTESY PHOTO | Hurricane Ingrid, just the second hurricane of the season, swirls off the coast of Mexico last week. Though few hurricanes have formed this year, weather experts warn the season is not over yet.

No storm has hit the East End with the same power since the “Long Island Express” hurricane smashed into the area 75 years ago with wind gusts as high as 186 mph and storm tides of 12 to 15 feet.

But weather experts say it’s not a matter of if another big storm will hit our region, but when.

“It’s as close to a guarantee as a scientist is willing to admit,” said Scott Mandia, a professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College.

And while 2013’s hurricane season — which began in June — has been quiet so far with no major hurricanes developing, meteorologists say the season could still produce violent storms before it ends in late November.

“We’re only at halftime in the football game,” said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesman for National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla.

In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicted an “active to extremely active” season this year, with between 13 and 20 named storms with winds above 39 mph and seven to 11 hurricanes — well above the seasonal average.

Though there have been nine named tropical storms so far this year, only two hurricanes have formed, Mr. Feltgen said.

The first, Hurricane Humberto, came to life off the coast of Africa last week. A second hurricane, Ingrid, dissipated after it hit Mexico over the weekend.

“Statistically, by the time we reach [Sept. 21] we should have had at least four hurricanes and one major hurricane,” Mr. Feltgen said.

Hurricanes have been slow to form this year due to a large mass of dry, stable air sitting over the eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa, which makes it hard for clouds to grow, he said. At least three tropical storms this year — Chantal, Dorian and Eric — began in the African tropics but were snuffed out by dry air.

The hurricane season is half over in mid-September and the peak of the season is winding down.

“But that doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination we can’t catch up in a hurry,” Mr. Feltgen said. Last year, Hurricane Sandy was a late-season storm that went on to cause more than $64 billion in damage and knock out power in New York City and across Long Island.

We are now in an “active hurricane cycle” that began in the mid-1990s, Mr. Feltgen said, noting that such cycles generally last 20 to 40 years.

But in the long run, experts say, the North Fork may see fewer storms than in previous years due to global warming. Mr. Mandia said models show that climate change may lead to more El Niño seasons, which cause stronger upper-level trade winds in the Atlantic that disrupt hurricane formation.

However, when hurricanes do make it to our area, he said, they will likely be stronger. Hurricanes are fueled by tropical waters and become more powerful by drawing moisture from the warm seas up into the clouds.

A warmer climate means warmer sea temperatures, Mr. Mandia said. When Hurricane Sandy chugged up the coast, the water was one degree warmer than normal because of climate change, he said.

Sandy would have caused damage across Long Island even without global warming, but Mr. Mandia said the hurricane was “definitely made worse” by the warmer water.

Rising sea levels and denser populations on the North Fork also mean storm surges will affect more people. The worst-case surge from a category 1 storm would turn Orient into an island by cutting off Route 25 near the causeway, similar to what happened during Hurricane Sandy, according to a surge inundation map by the New York State Office of Emergency Management. In a Category 2 storm, parts of Greenport would also be flooded and cut off from the rest of the town and in a Category 3 hurricane — the same category as the Long Island Express — the village would be submerged, the chart shows. Southern sections of Shelter Island would disappear under the waves while farther west, residences around Peconic Bay in Flanders, Jamesport, Aquebogue and Riverhead would be completely swamped.

“We’re only making ourselves more like sitting ducks if we continue to warm the planet and cause seawaters to rise,” Mr. Mandia said.

He advised residents to be prepared to live without modern conveniences like power or gas for a week or two in the event of a powerful storm.

While those inland will not be affected by the higher storm tides, those who enjoy life along the coast will suffer damage when the next Long Island Express hits.

“I take my kids to the beach and I see the mansions on Dune Road,” Mr. Mandia said. “I look at all those and I think, ‘Borrowed time, honey. Borrowed time.’ ”

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10/05/11 6:52pm

What a great relief to have our past month hurricane free! Over the past years, as we get closer to the “hundred year storm,” we all have been very uneasy, nervous, restless, etc. because most of us remember September 1938. That was the year of the greatest hurricane to hit our area, eastern Long Island, in the memory of all living at that time. We all were knowledgeable about coastal storms and September gales but had never been in or had never witnessed what the oldest residents of our area said would visit us some day: a “hurricane.”

Yes, we shall have another; when that will be no one knows, but there is one in our future. Because of our rising temperatures, very slight, a rising ocean and a higher wind velocity, the damage will be more severe. It may well be many years before such a severe coastal storm hits eastern Long Island but one will come. Serious thought should be given to all future coastal building because of the weather to come.

This past month of September was similar to many Septembers we have had in the past: that is, high temperatures in the 80s until mid-month. By mid-month then, it is most unusual to have high daytime temperatures in the 80s. As the high temperatures lower by late October or the first part of November, a high of 70 is something to talk about. But who knows what will be as our climate slowly changes?

Our past month of September had a high daytime temperature in the 80s up until the 25th, when a high of 82 was recorded on the 25th. It was in the 80s on 10 days in September. This mild period has helped all farm vegetables to keep their flavor and freshness.

Rainfall was ample throughout September. It rained on 10 days during September. The heaviest rain was more than 1.5 inches on the 8th. Total rainfall for this September was 4.25 inches. This is slightly above the long-term average of 3.75 inches for September. Nighttime temperatures for our past month were in the 40s to high 60s. The coolest nights dipped to 47 degrees on the 17th and 19th; the warmest day was September 1, reaching 84 degrees.

Our prevailing wind was from the southwest on 15 days. The local farm fresh vegetables shall be with us until we have a frost, which usually comes by October 15 but who knows now that we speak of global warming. Farm fresh vegetables may be with us until November 1 and with our changing weather pattern even later. Yes, when Dad and I were farming, it was get the silos filled before mid-September and the growing poultry housed by November 1.

Good health to all and enjoy October’s bright, blue, weather!