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New York City (NYC)
New England Hurricane of 1938

Hurricane of 1938
Photo Credit: The New York Times

On September 21, 1938, a Category 3 hurricane making its way from the coast of Africa unexpectedly hit NYC and Long Island at critical speeds. In 1938, the U.S. Weather Bureau did not have many of the methods we use today to accurately measure weather patterns. For example they lacked satellites, weather radars and even simpler equipment such as weather buoys. Without these tools, making an accurate prediction was difficult. The U.S Weather Bureau believed that the hurricane would eventually curve away from the Northeast. Unfortunately, this was a erroneous prediction.

It was a particularly high tide at 3:30 pm when the eye of the hurricane finally hit Long Island. The eye of the hurricane was 75 miles east of NYC. Nevertheless, since the radius of the hurricane was 50 miles wide and affected a large area of land, it was acutely felt even in the city. There were power outages above 59th street in Manhattan and the Bronx that left thousands of people in the dark. Throughout the city enormous amounts of downed trees lined many streets and parks. Although, the damage seemed catastrophic (costing NYC millions of dollars to repair) thankfully, only 10 lives were lost in NYC. However, the eastern part of Long Island had much higher casualties. Had the storms eye been closer to Manhattan, the outcome might have been much more disastrous.

One positive outcome of the storm lent itself to the cleanup effort following the hurricane. Many people at the time were affected by the Great Depression of the 1930's. Jobs were scarce and when available, compensated the average worker with below minimum wages. The extensive damage caused by the hurricane required a great effort for rehabilitation in the affected neighborhoods. This created a new demand for labor. Working class New Yorkers flocked to these neighborhoods, rebuilding houses, repairing buildings, reconnecting phone and power lines, and clearing many of the roads blocked by trees and debris.

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