Hurricane Carol

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Hurricane Carol
Category 3 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Weather map shows Hurricane Carol off the east coast of Virginia
Surface weather analysis of Carol on August 31
Formed August 25, 1954
Dissipated September 1, 1954
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 115 mph (185 km/h)
Lowest pressure 955 mbar (hPa); 28.2 inHg
Fatalities 72 total
Damage $462 million (1954 USD)
Areas affected Bahamas, North Carolina, New York, New England, southern Quebec
Part of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Carol was among the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect the New England region of the United States. It developed from a tropical wave near the Bahamas on August 25, 1954, and slowly strengthened as it moved northwestward. On August 27, Carol intensified to reach winds of 105 mph (165 km/h), but weakened as its motion turned to a northwest drift. A strong trough of low pressure turned the hurricane northeastward, and Carol later intensified into a major hurricane.[nb 1] While paralleling the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, the storm produced strong winds and rough seas that caused minor coastal flooding and slight damage to houses in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Delaware, and New Jersey. The well-organized hurricane accelerated north-northeastward and made landfall on Long Island, New York, and Connecticut on August 31 near peak intensity. Early on the following day, Carol transitioned into an extratropical cyclone over New Hampshire.

In New York, strong winds on Long Island damaged about 1,000 houses, left 275,000 people without electricity, downed many trees, and resulted in heavy crop losses. Storm surge flooded LaGuardia Airport and inundated the Montauk Highway, which left the eastern portion of Long Island isolated. Carol also brought strong winds and rough seas to New England. Throughout the region, about 150,000 people were left without electricity and telephone service. 1,545 houses were destroyed and another 9,720 were damaged. Approximately 3,500 cars and 3,000 boats were destroyed. There were 65 deaths and 1,000 injuries in New England. The storm caused an additional $1 million in damage in Canada as well as two deaths. Overall, Carol caused 72 fatalities and damage totaled $462 million (1954 USD),[nb 2] making it the costliest hurricane in the history of the United States, at the time. Following the storm, Carol was retired, becoming the first name to be removed from the naming lists in the Atlantic basin.

Meteorological history

Track of Hurricane Carol, beginning near the Bahamas and ending over Canada
Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale

A tropical wave spawned a tropical depression over the northeastern Bahamas on August 25.[2] It moved to the north-northwest and intensified into a tropical storm early on August 26.[3] Receiving the name Carol, the storm gradually turned to the north, and strengthened under generally favorable conditions.[2] On August 26, the Hurricane Hunters reported an eye, 23 miles (37 km) in diameter despite Carol being a tropical storm.[4] The next day, Carol strengthened to attain hurricane status while located about 345 miles (545 km) east of Cape Canaveral, Florida.[2] With a large anticyclone persisting across the southeastern United States,[5] the motion of Carol turned to a northwest drift. The hurricane continued to strengthen,[4] and Carol reached an initial peak intensity of 105 mph (165 km/h) on August 28.[3] By that time, it was a small hurricane, and the radius of maximum winds was smaller than normal for its latitude and central pressure.[4] After maintaining peak intensity for 30 hours and moving a distance of about 75 miles (120 km), Carol weakened slightly off the coast of Georgia.[2]

An eastward moving deep-wave trough intensified as it moved through the eastern United States. This caused Carol to accelerate as it turned to the north and north-northeast.[5] On August 30, the hurricane again strengthened to reach Category 2 status while located 180 miles (290 km) east of Savannah, Georgia. Early on August 31, Carol passed very near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina with reconnaissance aircraft intensity estimates from 75–125 mph (120–200 km/h). The hurricane continued north-northeastward with a forward motion of up to 39 mph (63 km/h),[2] and Carol intensified further to make landfall on eastern Long Island a Category 3 hurricane with peak winds of 115 mph (185 km/h).[3] After quickly crossing Long Island Sound, the hurricane made its final landfall on Old Saybrook, Connecticut,[2] still at peak intensity.[3] By that time, Carol had maintained its small structure and well-defined eye, despite the fast forward motion and the latitude. The landfall intensity was based on a pressure of 957 mbar (28.3 inHg) in Groton, Connecticut,[4] where the eye resulted in calm conditions and clear skies, followed by hurricane-force winds and storm tide that destroyed ninety percent of area homes.[6] Carol quickly lost tropical characteristics while crossing Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and became extratropical over southwestern New Hampshire late on August 31. The powerful extratropical storm continued northward, and after entering Canada lost its identity over southern Quebec.[2][3]



Before affecting North Carolina, the threat of Carol prompted a hurricane warning from Wilmington to Manteo. Storm warnings were issued southward to Charleston. Residents evacuated north of Wilmington along the ocean.[7] While passing by the state, the strongest winds remained to the east of Hurricane Carol, though winds of 90 to 100 mph (145 to 160 km/h) were reported at Cape Hatteras. Further inland, the hurricane produced a wind gust of 55 mph (90 km/h) in Wilmington and 65 mph (105 km/h) in Cherry Point.[2] The winds resulted in agricultural damage to the corn and soy bean crop.[8] High winds caused minor damage to roofs and houses,[8] and also downed some trees and power lines.[9] Near the coast, waves from the storm damaged fishing piers,[8] and flooding was reported in New Bern. High waves also damaged coastal roadways.[9] Damage in the state totaled to around $228,000.[2] Carol passed 100 miles (160 km) to the east of Virginia, and produced 40 mph (65 km/h) winds in Virginia Beach. The hurricane produced 4 inches (100 mm) of rain in Norfolk. Further to the northwest, rainfall from the system alleviated drought conditions in the Washington, D.C. area.[10] Damage was minor from Virginia to Delaware, where light rains fell. Precipitation also extended into Pennsylvania.[9]

In New Jersey, high winds downed power lines,[11] which killed two people.[12] Along the coast, high waves damaged boardwalks and caused flooding. In neighboring Pennsylvania, Carol caused a tractor to crash into a train, resulting in two deaths.[12] Damage in the state was estimated at $250,000.[9]

On eastern Long Island near where Carol made landfall, a pressure of 960 mbar (28 inHg) was recorded.[13] Winds on the island gusted to Lua error in Module:Convert at line 1851: attempt to index local 'en_value' (a nil value).,[14] leaving thousands of homes without power.[15] The winds downed many trees,[15] and left heavy crop damage to various fruits.[9] High winds damaged widespread homes, boats, and cars.[12] About 1,000 houses were damaged on the island,[15] and 275,000 people lost power.[9] The hurricane's storm surge covered the Montauk Highway in Montauk, effectively isolating eastern Long Island for a period of time.[16] Flooding also affected LaGuardia Airport.[12] Due to the compact nature of the storm, areas west of Fire Island were largely unaffected by the hurricane.[17] There were power outages in New York City, but little damage.[18] Damage was estimated at $5 million in the state,[9] and one death was reported, after thousands of people evacuated.[12]

New England and Canada

File:Carol in Rhode Island.jpg
Edgewood Yacht Club withstands the storm surge from Carol in Rhode Island.

Hurricane Carol produced hurricane and gale force winds across New England.[9] Strong winds from Hurricane Carol destroyed nearly 40% of the apple, corn, peach, and tomato crops from eastern Connecticut to Cape Cod.[13] Overall crop damage was estimated at $22.25 million.[9] The hurricane destroyed several thousand homes in New England, many of which were destroyed from the waters or the powerful winds.[13] Overall, 11,785 families were directly impacted by the hurricane, including 9,720 houses that were damaged and 1,545 that were destroyed.[15] High winds left over 150,000 people without power in New England,[18] potentially as many as one-third of all of New England,[19] and many residents also lost phone service.[9] The hurricane also destroyed 3,500 cars and 3,000 boats in the region.[13] Heavy rainfall from the storm caused traffic accidents, but only minor flooding.[9]

Throughout the United States, Hurricane Carol caused $461 million in damage,[20] mostly in New England,[2] making it the costliest Atlantic hurricane at the time.[21] There were 65 deaths in New England,[13] and about 1,000 injured people.[9] Despite the high damage, advance warning allowed for many fewer deaths than the total of 488 fatalities during the 1938 New England hurricane, which affected the same area with similar strength.[18] However, some areas did not receive advance warning, due to power outages preventing people from receiving Weather Bureau warnings ahead of the storm.[19]

Hurricane Carol struck Connecticut shortly after high tide, and its combination with 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m) storm surges from New London eastward produced widespread tidal flooding.[13] About 2,000 people were stranded when a rail line between New Haven and Rhode Island was flooded.[18] The heaviest rainfall associated with the passage of the storm occurred in New London, where up to 6 inches (150 mm) fell[13] and wind blew off a portion of the city hall roof.[22] These strong winds left much of the eastern portion of the state without power.[13] Near the coast, the combination of strong winds and the storm surge damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings, including 100 destroyed houses.[15] Many other homes in Eastern Connecticut were damaged by falling trees.[13] Thousands had evacuated before the storm reached the area, and one person died in the state.[12] Due to the compact nature of the storm, western Connecticut experienced little effects from Carol.[23] Overall damage in the state was estimated at $50 million.[9]

The hurricane produced a record-high wind gust of 135 mph (215 km/h) at Block Island, while on mainland Rhode Island, sustained winds peaked at 90 mph (145 km/h) in Warwick with gusts to 105 mph (165 km/h). Upon making landfall around high tide, Carol produced a storm surge of up to 14.4 feet (4.4 m) in Narragansett Bay, surpassing that of the New England Hurricane of 1938. The resulting storm surge flooded downtown Providence with 12 feet (3.7 m) of water.[13] News reports indicated that the floods covered the area with 4 feet (1.2 m) in about an hour.[19] The winds downed two broadcasting towers in the city. Westerly was also flooded,[12] where 200 homes were washed away.[18] There was also heavy damage in Newport,[12] where the Newport Casino was damaged.[18] Some entire coastal communities were nearly destroyed,[13] and 620 houses and 83 other buildings were destroyed in the state.[15] The winds destroyed the roofs of hundreds of buildings, forcing many to evacuate to shelters during the passage of the storm. The powerful winds also downed thousands of trees and power lines, blacking out the entire state and interrupting 95 percent of phone service.[24] Damage in the state totaled about $200 million,[9] and there were at least 17 deaths in Rhode Island.[12]

Storm surge floods a coastal area in Connecticut
Storm surge from Hurricane Carol in Connecticut.

Before Carol affected the area, 20,000 people evacuated from Cape Cod.[12] In Massachusetts, the hurricane produced winds between 80 to 110 mph (130 to 180 km/h) across much of the eastern part of the state.[13] Gusts reached 80 mph (130 km/h) at Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory,[11] and the highest gusts in the state was around 125 mph (201 km/h).[12] The winds downed about 50 million board feet of trees in the state, many of which fell onto power lines;[9] much of eastern Massachusetts lost power during the storm.[13] Carol left about $15 million in crop damage in the state. The winds destroyed much of the corn crop, about half of the peach crop, and about 1.5 million bushels of apples.[18] High winds destroyed the spire of the Old North Church in Boston, which was the location of where the lanterns were hung during Paul Revere's ride.[11] It was a replacement spire, after a hurricane in 1804 destroyed the original.[18] Heavy damage was reported throughout Boston,[12] and in Wareham, about 1,500 people were left homeless.[19] Statewide, 3,350 homes were damaged to some degree, and another 800 were destroyed. The hurricane destroyed another 213 buildings and severely damaged 530.[15] Near the coast, strong storm surges were reported,[13] and a 20 feet (6.1 m) storm tide was reported at New Bedford, setting a record.[19] At least 15 deaths were reported in the state,[12] and damage was estimated at $175 million.[9]

Carol maintained its intensity as it moved inland,[25] and its winds were strong enough to knock down trees and power lines in New Hampshire. One tree fell onto a car, killing a person, and there were three deaths overall in the state,[12] along with $3 million in damage.[9] There was also a death in neighboring Vermont.[12] Carol produced winds of up to 80 mph (130 km/h) in Augusta, Maine. Throughout the state, the winds downed hundreds of trees, some of which damaged houses, wrecked cars, destroyed one building, or fell onto power lines.[25] Fallen trees blocked highways,[12] and one person was injured by a falling tree limb. Downed power lines left several counties without power or telephone services. The winds flattened hundreds of acres of corn in North Livermore,[25] and throughout the state, there was heavy damage to the apple crop.[18] Damage to the apple crop amounted to $1.7 million. While moving west of Maine, the hurricane dropped heavy rainfall, including a report of 2.15 inches (63 mm) in 12 hours.[25] Along the coast, high waves damaged boats.[12] In Maine, the hurricane killed three people, injured at least eight, and caused $10 million in damage, the costliest natural disaster in the state's history.[25] Carol lost this distinction 10 days later when Hurricane Edna caused $15 million in damage in the state.[26]

Rainfall in Canada peaked at 4.27 inches (108 mm) in Quebec. In Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, wind gusts peaked at 47 mph (75 km/h).[27] In Quebec, the extratropical remnants of Carol downed trees and power lines in Montreal from wind gusts as high as 55 mph (89 km/h).[2] Widespread power outages were reported in New Brunswick and Quebec, and downed trees struck three cars in Saint John, New Brunswick. The storm caused flights to be canceled, and subways were flooded in Montreal. Damage there totaled about $1 million (1954 CAD, $980,000 USD)[nb 3].[27] Two people were killed, one of whom due to drowning on a sunken barge in Quebec City.[12]


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Governor of Rhode Island Dennis J. Roberts declared martial law for the state after Carol caused heavy damage.[12] In Massachusetts, the National Guard were deployed to six towns to prevent looting.[18] National Guardsmen flew a plane of dry ice from Newark, New Jersey to Boston to assist the widespread areas without power and refrigeration.[31] Widespread areas were without power for days, and in some areas for up to a week, until crews could repair downed lines. Spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration resulted in about $1 million in losses. Power crews from elsewhere in the United States arrived to assist in the restoration. Workers quickly removed trees from highways. Damaged factories in Rhode Island prevented employees for working for three weeks after the storm.[9] The steeple of the Old North Church in Boston was rebuilt in 1955, after residents throughout the country provided $150,000 in donations.[32] Governor of Maine Burton M. Cross declared a state of emergency for the state. The Small Business Administration declared six counties in Maine as disaster areas.[25] In the days after the storm, President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower declared Massachusetts and Rhode Island as federal disaster areas. The federal government provided financial aid, amounting to $1.5 million in Massachusetts.[33] The president ordered for troops to assist in the aftermath. The American Red Cross quickly deployed teams to the most affected areas,[34] feeding hundreds of families.[18] About 12 days after Carol struck New England, Hurricane Edna struck eastern Massachusetts, causing an additional $40 million in damage and 20 deaths.[2] More disaster aid was provided after the second hurricane.[35]

The high damage caused by Hurricane Carol and other hurricanes in 1954 prompted the United States government to devote research to set up the National Hurricane Research Project. Hurricane Hunters and the Weather Bureau collected data on subsequent hurricanes to determine their structure, as well as attempted to weaken storms with silver iodide via Project Stormfury.[36]

Due to the high damage, the name Carol was removed from the naming list for 10 years. The name was reused in the 1965 season, but was retroactively retired, and it will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. Carol was the first Atlantic hurricane name in history to be retired.[37]

See also


  1. A major hurricane is a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph (179 km/h), or a Category 3 or higher on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale.[1]
  2. All damage totals are in 1954 United States dollars unless otherwise noted.
  3. $1 million in 1954 Canadian dollars (CAD) would be $8.66 million in 2013 CAD, adjusted for inflation figures from the Bank of Canada.[28] When converted to USD, the total would be $8.5 million as provided by the Oanda Corporation,[29] which would be about $980,000 when adjusted for inflation to 1954.[30]


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  • McCarthy Earls, Eamon. "Twisted Sisters: How Four Superstorms Forever Changed the Northeast in 1954 & 1955." Franklin: Via Appia Press (, 2014. ISBN 978-0982548578

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