92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012: 11:00 AM
On the Actions and Inaction of the U.S. Weather Bureau During the Great New England Hurricane of 1938
Room 346/347 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Lourdes B. AvilÚs, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

Much has been written about the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which left behind widespread devastation throughout the region, killing hundreds, modifying the coastline and decimating the forest. Once the storm was past Cape Hatteras, as was procedure since 1935, responsibility for the storm's tracking, forecasting and warning was handed off to the Washington DC Weather Bureau Office, who issued "northeast storm warnings", but no "hurricane warnings." The storm was expected by all to "recurve northeast" and dissipate over the North Atlantic; but not only did it not continue recurving as expected, it moved much faster than previously known possible and it also maintained its intensity well into interior New England. As one might expect, immediately following the storm and throughout the years, the Weather Bureau was and continued being criticized for not issuing adequate warnings.

The author will discuss the story of Charles H. Pierce, the junior forecaster attributed with having forecasted the hurricane's track correctly, Charles L. Mitchell, the forecaster in charge who overruled the need for hurricane warnings (while having himself performed a detailed study of hurricane tracks just the previous decade and also being recognized by his contemporaries as one of the best forecasters in the nation), the criticism and the Bureau's response to the criticism. Finally, and more importantly, the history behind the observational and analysis tools available to forecasters at that time and how they might have made a difference in the Hurricane's forecast and warnings will also be examined.

This study is part of a larger project, a book on the science and history of The Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which will be published by the AMS in time for the 75th anniversary of the storm in 2013.

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