Blaming Forecasting for Inevitable Destruction

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For my final paper I will be looking at the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 and analyzing how the lack of hurricane understanding combined with the extreme nature of the storm made this hurricane the single most destructive natural disaster in New England history.  In the modern era of data collection and meteorological study, the Northeast had no precedent or experience with hurricanes.  More accustom to snow and winter weather, this storm took forecasters, the entire country, and New Englanders by complete surprise. Truly the Great New England Hurricane was the perfect storm for such destruction.  Preoccupied by instability in Europe, the media underreported the potential power.  Meteorologists not only lacked hurricane forecasting equipment in the region, they incorrectly assured the region that the storm would not make landfall.  Finally, the hurricane acted unusually by taking unexpected turns, rapidly gaining speed, and somehow gaining power through colder water.  Therefore, my paper will explain how the entire region was unprepared due to coincidence and scientific failure. Many theorize that sole responsibility lies on poor forecasting, yet I believe that even if New England knew of the projected path, the storm was so powerful and the region was so inexperienced with hurricane reaction that nothing could have prevented the destruction.

As for sources, I have several secondary sources that intend I to research and a general idea for primary sources.  My focus will be on RA Scotti’s book Sudden Sea: the Great Hurricane of 1938.  This 2003 collection of newspapers articles, eyewitness accounts, and archival testimonial, will provide great primary sources.  Additionally, I intend to request titles like New York-New England Hurricane and Floods, 1938; Official Report of Relief Operations and A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane as two other books that focus on primary source accounts.  In preliminary research, newspapers like the New York Times, the Cape Cod Times, and the Hartford Times have shown good potential as well.  Finally, I intend to use recorded transmission from meteorologists and other testimonial from forecasters along the East Coast.  As for secondary sources, JSTOR and EBSCOhost both have limited selections of historical research about this specific storm, but there are many books available through WorldCat.  Historians and scientist have researched this hurricane from multiple angles, including the immediate reaction and response, so I should have no trouble compiling a historiography regarding my specific topic.

As I research there are several topics and question I intend to answer when narrowing my topic and thesis.  Looking at hurricane research and study during the 1930’s, I want to explore differences between forecasting in Europe, the Southeast, and the Northeast.  Additionally, I want to research a history of all Northeast hurricanes and see if any other storms produced the wind speed, storm surge, damage inland, or destruction throughout the entire region like the 1938 hurricane.  Finally, by researching testimonial of citizens along the coastline, I should be able to compile an understanding of expectations, preparedness, and consequences for future storms.  In answering these questions and topics I will prove that the New England Hurricane of 1938 was truly unique and that that while better forecasting would have minimized some damage, most of the destruction was inevitable.