The 1938 hurricane in pictures
The weather forecast 75 years ago, for Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1938, called for a typical autumn “line storm.” Gale-force warnings for winds up to 75 mph were issued. No one expected winds and waves higher than in any previous New England storm.
When the hurricane hit Rhode Island in late afternoon, the tide – already affected by the equinox and the new moon – was exceptionally high. Driven by the storm, it reached 16 feet above normal spring tides. The surge, funneled by Narragansett Bay, rushed north toward Providence.
In Rhode Island, there were 262 deaths and property damage estimated at $100 million, over $1.6 billion in today’s dollars. In Jamestown, 10 people died, seven of them children caught in a school bus that was swept into Sheffield Cove as it tried to cross the top of Mackerel Cove. Trees were uprooted. Businesses and homes were destroyed. Transportation to and from the island did not return to normal for months.
The most significant and longest lasting effect of the hurricane on Jamestown was the building of a bridge across the West Passage. The bridge had been debated for more than 10 years when the storm destroyed the ferry wharves on both sides of the West Passage. The following Monday, Jamestown voters approved a bridge, 240-23.