Weather: The Fabulous 1950s and Super 1960s

The Fabulous 1950s and Super 1960s

Once again a lull in disastrous hurricanes took place, although an offshore storm just missed New England in 1944. The 1950s and 1960s became very active with numerous big ones finding populated areas. In 1954, Hurricane Carol moved into New England with wind gusts to 130 mph. I remember that one: I watched the roof of my house just north of Boston blow away, piece by piece. The storm tide in Providence was nearly as great as the 1938 Hurricane. The year 1955 brought Hurricanes Connie and Diane into New England with a combined rainfall of more than 20 inches. The flooding became historic and damage reached close to $1 billion in 1955 dollars. Every New England town was flooded. Rivers swept away homes and businesses. The death toll reached 82.

These same turbulent times brought Hurricane Donna in 1960. The storm delivered a one-two punch to southern Florida, first it moved from the Atlantic into the Gulf of Mexico and then turned back into the Atlantic. It was the first hurricane to cause hurricane-force winds from Florida to the mid-Atlantic states to New England. When the storm first crossed Florida, it was a powerful Category 4 storm.

Braving the Elements

Weather lore says, "October, all over," but during 1954, Hurricane Hazel didn't come along until mid-October. Although the storm weakened as it moved inland through the mid-Atlantic states, 70 mph winds occurred as far north as Burlington, Vermont. Hurricane Grace in 1991, which helped set the stage for the famous "perfect storm," formed in late October.

Southern Florida was hit hard again when Hurricane Betsy moved just south of Miami right after Labor Day in 1965. Winds reached over 100 mph. I have vivid memories of that storm as well. I was in Miami that weekend, about to become engaged, visiting with my fiance-to-be. The storm lurked off the East Coast from Saturday through Monday, sending occasional squalls into south Florida.

Nobody was sure where Betsy was going next. Some thought Cuba. But by about 2 P.M. Tuesday afternoon, there was little doubt. This time, the squall came and didn't abate. The wind roared, the rains pelted down, and the power went out. Through that night, the only flashes of light originated from short-circuited power transformers or lightning. By daybreak on Wednesday, the barometer seemed to steady. I went to the window and saw the sunrise through the eye of the storm as it passed across the Keys. I looked down and saw that our building, instead of being along Biscayne Bay, was in Biscayne Bay.


As you move into the eye of a hurricane, winds die down, and the sky brightens. This does not mean the storm is over. It is just a brief lull. The worst part of the storm happens once the eye passes over.

Soon after that unforgettable sunrise, the eye of the storm moved on. The winds picked up again. And the pounding continued until mid-afternoon, when finally the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the storm turned northward toward the Gulf Coast and intensified even more, eventually ravaging the Louisiana coastline. Betsy became one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history, causing more than $9 billion in damage.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.