Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts HistorySauer, Anne
Hurricane of 1938, 1938
|On September 21, 1938, the first hurricane recorded in the history of the weather bureau in New England struck the northeast, causing over one hundred deaths and over $100,000,000 of property damage in Massachusetts alone. At Tufts, although trees and power lines went down across campus, no one was injured and no major damage was reported to any buildings.|
"The Big Wind," as it was nicknamed, hit New England with almost no warning. Two days prior, all signs had pointed to the hurricane going ashore in Florida, and many homeowners across the South had already begun boarding their windows and hunkering down for the storm. On September 19, however, the storm moved between two high-pressure areas and began to race northwards. Not expecting a storm of such magnitude, New Englanders did not prepare themselves adequately. When winds began to pick up during the afternoon of September 21, many people were out running errands and going about their everyday business. Many of the deaths blamed on the storm occurred when a fifteen foot tidal wave struck the coastline of Massachusetts and Rhode Island right as schools were letting out for the day.
The Somerville area, luckily out of range of the abnormally high tides and the tidal wave, was battered by winds topping one hundred miles per hour. Trees were blown over, power lines snapped, and the entire roof of St. Joseph's Church in Somerville was blown off.
At Tufts, the winds started to pick up immediately following a faculty meeting concerning the arrival of pre-registration students, planned to begin on September 24. Professors reported feeling increasing winds as they made their way home, and soon after began to witness the destructive power of the storm. Some professors worked quickly to brace trees, while others attempted to film and photograph the storm. The first trees to collapse in the wind were those on the golf course. The heavy winds simply uprooted the trees, leaving them lying on their sides, roots in the air.
The next morning, after the winds had died down and the damage could be inspected, it was determined that a total of sixty-three trees had been lost in the storm. Along with the trees, a number of power lines had come down, either because of the falling trees or because the poles holding up the lines had snapped in half. The tree damage was especially heavy on the Academic Quad, where fallen trees completely blocked the path from Ballou to Packard. Trees also littered the quad in front of and behind the Goddard chapel. Incredibly, not one falling tree damaged any Tufts building.
Over the next few days, a massive cleanup operation began. Using a steam shovel already on campus for construction use, university workers dug out the uprooted trees and hauled the remains off of the campus in large trucks. The Edison Malden Electric Company, along with Tufts Professor Crabtree and others, helped to restore power to the university. After matriculation, even students joined the effort. A large group of freshmen worked for an entire Saturday removing debris from the top of the hill.
Within a few weeks, the campus was clean of debris, and power had been restored to all buildings. Although the storm left its mark by destroying so many trees, Tufts was able to escape the hurricane almost unscathed.
Source: MBWS, 1-3
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