Hurricane Gloria - September 27, 1985.

WINDS: 85-mph (moving at 35-mph).
PRESSURE: 28.37 inches/961 mb.
STORM - SURGE: 4- 7 feet above Mean Tide.

The eye of Hurricane Gloria makes landfall on western Long Island, New York with sustained winds of 85-mph (gusts to 115-mph) in September 1985. (Photo courtesy NOAA).

 

Hurricane Gloria was one of the most intensely reported events of the 1980's. Gloria hit New York and Connecticut as a moderate hurricane in September 1985. At the time of landfall on Long Island - Gloria had sustained winds of 85-mph, while rapidly moving forward at 35-mph. This combination of sustained winds and rapid forward motion - produced major hurricane conditions (gusts to 115-mph) across a narrow area of eastern Long Island, New York. Although Gloria, was not a major hurricane when it struck Connecticut, it was still the most damaging hurricane to strike the state since Carol in 1954.

Gloria was a classic Cape Verde hurricane, traveling more than a thousand miles across the tropical Atlantic in late September 1985. By September 22, Gloria had reached hurricane strength as it neared the Leeward Islands. Slowly curving toward the northwest, the storm moved just to the east of the Bahamas while intensifying rapidly. When Air Force hurricane hunters reached the storm late on the 24th, Gloria had a central pressure of 919 mb (27.13 in.), and sustained winds of 150-mph - making Gloria almost a category five hurricane. At this time, Gloria was one of the largest and most intense cyclones to ever threaten the middle and north Atlantic states in several generations.

As Gloria continued moving toward the United States mainland it slowly lost intensity due to atmospheric conditions. Gloria brushed the North Carolina Outer Banks near midnight on September 27, with sustained winds of 105-mph and a central pressure of 27.83 inches (942 mb). The Diamond Shoals light-tower sixteen -miles off the North Carolina coast, recorded sustained winds of 98-mph with gusts to 120-mph.

Gloria continued to accelerate northward off the eastern US coast brushing the coast of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey with hurricane-force gusts. Gloria finally crossed the coast of the United States mainland near western Long island, New York about 10-miles east of Kennedy International Airport. Passing over central Long Island, Gloria crossed the Connecticut coast near Bridgeport about 40-minutes later with sustained winds of 80-mph.

The track of Hurricane Gloria (1985) from the far tropical Atlantic to landfall along the coast of the Northeastern United States. Gloria's track was similar to the 1938 and 1944 hurricanes (track NHC).

 

 

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS IN THE UNITED STATES

As Hurricane Gloria crossed coast of the US mainland over western Long Island, NY, - NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft reported sustained winds of 85-mph- with higher gusts. The combination of Gloria's winds and forward speed (35-mph), produced peak winds of at least 115-mph (weak category 3 hurricane) across eastern Long Island. As Gloria crossed the Connecticut coast - sustained winds were around 80-mph with gusts just under 100-mph.

There were very few wind reports near the area of landfall in New York or Connecticut - due to the complete evacuation of Coast Guard personnel from stations across the region. The strongest official wind gust recorded on Long Island was only 84-mph at Islip. In Connecticut, the National Weather Service at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, recorded sustained winds of 74-mph with a gust to 92-mph. There were several unofficial wind reports- including measurements of a 97-mph gust at Centerreach, Long Island, and 120-mph gusts at Fire Island Light (NWS). The northeast track across Long Island spared New York City hurricane conditions and any significant effects. A peak wind gust of 51 - mph was recorded at Central Park (MWR-Case/1985).

As is common when tropical cyclones strike the north Atlantic states - the storm affects the immediate coastline of several states. Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts - all recorded hurricane force gusts along exposed coastal points. Below is a list of the peak winds measured during Hurricane Gloria in each Atlantic coastal state (MWR-Case/1985):

South Island, Virginia. 103-mph gust.
Ocean City, Maryland. 90- mph wind gust.
Indian River Inlet, Delaware. 78-mph gust.
Ocean City, New Jersey. 81-mph winds / gust to 101-mph
Islip, New York. 84-mph gust.
Bridgeport, Connecticut (NWS). 74-mph winds/gust to 92-mph
Providence, Rhode Island (NWS). 52-mph winds/gust to 81-mph.
Westerly, Rhode Island (Airport). 92-mph gust.
Block Island, Rhode Island (Airport). 76-mph gust.
Chatham, Mass (Coast Guard Station) 67-mph winds/gust to 109-mph.

 

A barometric pressure of 28.37 inches (961 mb) was measured by aircraft when Gloria crossed Long Island, NY. The National Weather Service at Kennedy International Airport recorded a minimum pressure of 28.57 inches, while Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport, Connecticut, recorded a low pressure of 28.47 inches (965 mb). This was the lowest barometric pressure recorded in Connecticut and New York since Donna in 1960 - a period of 25 years.

Hurricane Gloria produced a rather modest storm surge of 4 to 7 feet above normal in most of the north Atlantic States. Fortunately for tens of thousands of people - Gloria arrived at low tide. A few locations on eastern Long Island reported modest storm surge damage. Tides of 7-feet above normal flooded homes from Hempstead to the Hamptons. In Connecticut, tides were measured at 5.5 feet above normal at New Haven and 4.5 feet above normal from the Lymes to Groton. In Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, storm surges were generally less than 5-feet above normal.

(Fire Island, New York)

Roof of homes ripped off in 115-mph gusts during Hurricane Gloria on Long Island in September 1985 (Photo courtesy World Wide).

 

THE IMPACT

The worst wind damage during Hurricane Gloria occurred in New York across central and eastern Long Island. This region was located in the area of maximum winds just to the east of Gloria's eye. All across eastern Long Island there was some type of damage - roofs were ripped off, trees were blown into buildings and across shoreline roads, and buildings and homes were flooded in the modest storm surge. The 115-mph + gusts ripped the roof off the Islip Police Station and the large hangers at Long Island- MacArthur Airport. There was significant building damage in the Westhampton Beach area - with many structures flattened. A commercial truck was blown off the Tappan Zee bridge at the height of the hurricane, falling some 90-feet into the Hudson River below - incredibly, the driver was not killed. One person was reported to have been killed during Hurricane Gloria on Long Island from falling tree limbs.

Hurricane Gloria's arrival at low tide produced a rather minimal 7-foot storm surge across Long Island. The most serious storm surge flooding was experienced along the Great South Bay, were hundreds of homes suffered flood damage from the storm-surge. In Westhampton, the fabled Dune Road was covered with ocean water in several places at the height of the hurricane. Many walkways and boardwalks were damaged and destroyed along the ocean side of Fire Island. Many beach communities on eastern Long Island reported modest beach erosion with several piers and docks swept away.

Rainfall totals associated with Hurricane Gloria across the southeast New York area were light to moderate. Locations on Long Island reported only 1 - 2 inches of rain during Gloria's passage, while parts of the lower Hudson Valley picked 4 to 6 - inches in some spots.

Roof torn off hangers of MacArthur Airport on central Long Island after Hurricane Gloria in 1985. (Photo LIP).

 

Hurricane Gloria produced weak category two hurricane conditions across southern Connecticut. Gloria continued to lose intensity as it passed over Long Island. Peak wind gusts in southcentral and southeastern Connecticut were likely near 95-mph as the tropical cyclone swept over the region. The metropolitan New Haven area was hit with wind gusts of 90-mph and heavy rain. There were only a few reports of minimal structural damage in southern Connecticut during Gloria. Tree damage in Connecticut was modestly heavy within 10 to 20-miles of the coast, and along the coast from around Bridgeport to the Lymes. The entire causeway in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook was under water at the height of the hurricane, while several fishing piers near New Haven were also destroyed. Two persons were reported to have been killed by falling trees limbs in southern Connecticut - tragically one one these was a six year old girl.

Hurricane Gloria produced minimal damage along the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey coasts. In Ocean City, Maryland, 80 to 90-mph wind gusts and a 3-foot storm surge poured into city streets, sweeping away part of the famed boardwalk. In Delaware, there was moderate beach erosion along the coast, and some overwash along the coastal highway. In New Jersey, the feared repeat of storm surge flooding of the 1944 hurricane in Atlantic City never occurred - a minimal storm surge of 4-feet flooded some roads and buckled several boardwalks.

United States Coast Guard personal survey storm-surge flooding on Long Island, New York following Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 (Photo USCC-1985).

 

Rhode Island and Massachusetts reported little damage and experienced sustained winds of less than hurricane force. There was some moderate beach erosion from the large and battering waves along the Rhode Island beaches. As the weakening center of Gloria passed over central Massachusetts, Worcester reported a minimum pressure of 28.97 in.(981 mb).One death was reported in Rhode Island form falling tree limbs.

One unusual occurrence after Hurricane Gloria was the number of parrots that took up residence along the Connecticut coast. Known a Monk Parrots - these tropical birds apparently became caught up in the eye of Hurricane Gloria as it passed just to the east of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. The mild winter climate of the Connecticut coast allowed the birds to survive and breed in great numbers. Despite attempts by Connecticut Light and Power Company at eradication - the bright colored (yellow and green) tropical birds are still visible on telephone poles and in the marsh thickets along the Connecticut coast today.

Infrared image of Hurricane Gloria crossing the Connecticut coast on September 27, 1985. Gloria was the most damaging hurricane to hit Connecticut since Carol in 1954. (Photo NOAA).

 

Gloria was responsible for a total of eight deaths in the United States. Two persons were killed in Connecticut, two were killed in Rhode Island, and one each in New York and New Hampshire. It is estimated that 1 hour after the storm - 2.2 million people were without electricity in the Northeastern United States (Tavett). Hurricane Gloria produced one of the largest single power losses in United States history up to that time: 883,000 lost power in New York, 669,000 in Connecticut, 237,000 in New Jersey, 174,000 in Rhode Island, 124,000 in Maryland, 98,000 in Massachusetts, and 56,000 in Virginia.

More than 350,000 persons evacuated the low lying areas on Long Island, and in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern Massachusetts. The Hotels in Atlantic City closed down for the first and only time in their history. The was less damage than expected to the peach crops in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut, while many grape vineyards on Long Island and coastal Connecticut reported only minimal losses. In New England, apple crop losses were moderate in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. On December 30, 1985, President Ronald Reagan declared several counties in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut as federal disaster areas. Total damage is estimated at $900-million in 1986.

 

 

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 © Michael A. Grammatico 05/02

 

 

 

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