Maine Hurricane History


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Early History

Prior to 1886, accurate records on hurricanes became more difficult to find. However, thanks to David Ludlum, a weather historian and author of Early American Hurricanes 1492-1870, many hurricanes can be traced back to the early 1600's. He accomplished this primarily through journals and diaries of people who lived through these events.

When working with early records, one needs to note that a change took place in the calendar. On September 2, 1752, we changed from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. This is the system that we currently use today. The change added 9 days to the Julian Calendar so that the next day became September 14th. I will use both the old date and the new date when specifying times prior to September 2, 1752. The new date will be indicated in parenthesis.

The earliest storm of record here in the United States occurred on August 15, 1635 (Aug 25th). This storm was the first of the early colonial hurricanes, and had a similar track to the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 and Hurricane Edna of 1954. As described by Governor John Winthrop, of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, This storm caused great destruction and uprooted thousands of trees. This storm passed between Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts, and was a fast mover. Though Maine did not become a state until 1820, the territory was part of Massachusetts until that time. Since the track was similar to two other destructive storms in Maine, I have included it because of its proximity to this area, and to show the potential of storms here in Maine.

On September 24, 1638 (Oct 4th) the first recorded storm in Maine (Massachusetts) occurred. "September 24- Monday, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, a fearful storm of wind began to rage, called a hurricane…The greatest mischief it did us, was the wracking of our shallops, and the blowing down of many trees, in some places a mile together." This was taken from the writings of John Jocelyn of Scarborough, Maine (Massachusetts). The shallops indicated in this passage are small boats that are used in shallow waters.

On August 28, 1675, (Sept 7th), forty years after the first colonial hurricane hit the area, another storm hit causing crop damage and trees to be blown down. On August 13, 1683 (Aug 23rd) another storm hit and took a track similar to the hurricane of 1938. This was an inland storm, and probably dropped heavy rain on Maine as it caused major flooding in Connecticut. It also had a storm surge that doubled the tide in Massachusetts. Dover, New Hampshire indicated it had an "exceedingly high tide and was stormy"

Seventy six years passed before the next storm was documented. This storm occurred on October 23-24, 1761 and caused gale force winds across Casco Bay and the Bay of Fundy. This storm tore up trees by the roots, however most damage was done to Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.

On September 8, 1769 a strong northeast gale was described by Rev. Thomas Smith of Portland as "a dreadful storm". This storm had a forward motion of around 40 mph and a low pressure of 29.57. Damage was primarily confined to Newport, Rhode Island, but Maine experienced heavy rain and wind, causing tree limbs to break. On October 20, 1770, Rev. Smith indicated "an exceedingly great storm" had passed through the area. This storm had a low pressure of 28.96" Hg. On September 6, 1788, a strong storm uprooted trees, unroofed barns, destroyed orchards, and killed many cattle. This storm was known as the "Western New England Hurricane", but caused damage far to the east. It created a 75 mile wide path of destruction in less than 30 minutes. Several people were killed by falling trees.

"The Great September Gale of 1815" occurred on September 23rd of that year. This storm was the greatest to hit this area since the storm of 1635. It would not be for another 123 years when the next great storm occurred in 1938. This storm probably developed in the eastern Atlantic off the Cape Verde Islands, and made its first landfall in St. Barthelemy in the Caribbean. The storm passed the Turks and the Bahamas, and accelerated to 50 mph. This storm caused great destruction inland, and the most damage was to the east of the storm center. The storm split New England in half, and proceeded through upstate New Hampshire into Canada. Six people died in the storm which inundated Providence. In Maine there was probably much forest destruction. On September 4, 1821, another storm came through New England, but too far to the west to do much destruction in Maine. However, as an interesting note, this storm was studied by William C. Redfield, who, by observing the path of destruction and the way that trees fell, had determined that hurricanes were circular, and rotated around a center.

The next storm of note did not occur until 1858. On September 16th, strong gales from the southeast once again occurred. Bangor reported they had "one of the heaviest in years" This storm continued until midnight, and uprooted trees and blew down chimneys. Belfast, Maine reported that there was minor damage to shipping. Central and Eastern Maine felt the strongest winds as they were in the eastern side of the storm. The storm had a low pressure of 29.42 at Nantucket.

Major Storms

The following storms had a major impact on Maine, and Androscoggin County:

New England Hurricane of 1938

Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944

Hurricane Carol of 1954

Hurricane Edna of 1954

Hurricane Donna of 1960

Hurricane Gloria of 1985

Hurricane Bob of 1991

For more detailed information on these and other storms, download my report:

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms: Their Impact on Maine and Androscoggin County

Copyright 2002, Wayne Cotterly

Revised 10/21/2002