In September of 1938, a great storm rose up on the coast of West Africa and began making its way across the Atlantic Ocean. The National Weather Bureau learned about it from merchant ships at sea and predicted it would blow itself out at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, as such storms usually did. The coastal forecast from New York to Maine called for "fresh southerly winds" with some cooler, rainy weather. Out on the eastern end of Long Island, fishermen set their lobster traps as usual and prepared for another tough winter. At wealthy summer homes in the Hamptons and in Newport, Rhode Island, families continued with plans to entertain their friends.
But the storm didn't blow itself out at Cape Hatteras. It suddenly began an unexpected sprint north along the coast, surprising even the Coast Guard. No one had ever seen a storm like this; radar had not yet been invented.
Within 24 hours, the storm ripped into the New England shore with enough fury to set off seismographs in Sitka, Alaska. Traveling at a shocking 60 miles per hour -- three times faster than most tropical storms -- it was astonishingly swift and powerful, with peak wind gusts up to 186 mph. The storm without a name turned into one of the most devastating storms recorded in North America. Over 600 people were killed, most by drowning. Another hundred were never found. Property damage was estimated at $400 million -- over 8,000 homes were destroyed, 6,000 boats wrecked or damaged.
The Hurricane of '38 chronicles the lives of fishermen, residents and vacationers on the day before the storm, following their stories through one of the greatest natural disasters ever to befall the eastern seaboard.
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