NOAA 97-R248

Contact:  Bob Chartuk              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Early November marks the 70th anniversary of the devastating floods of 1927 that caused death and widespread destruction throughout New England.

According to the National Weather Service, the hurricane season 70 years ago brought a tropical storm that swept northward across western New England on Nov. 3-4, 1927. As its warm, humid air rose over the mountains and hills, torrential rains fell, causing severe flooding over extensive areas in virtually all of northern New England and the upper Hudson basin in New York. In all, 85 people were lost.

"Unlike 1927, in 1997 the National Weather Service uses an array of modern technology designed to help us better forecast, observe, and warn the public of flooding events," said Sol Summer, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service's Eastern Region. "These improved forecasts and more timely warnings protect lives and reduce property damage."

Today, NWS hydrometeorologists use cutting-edge technology in their work. Through a $4.5 billion modernization program, these scientists use Doppler radar to track and measure precipitation and winds in a storm, weather satellites to track the storm's movement, and automated river and rain gages to measure rainfall and river levels. High-speed computers and advanced weather forecast models provide NWS scientists with global guidance.

The NWS forecasts and warnings are disseminated to the public, news media, emergency managers and the public much faster and more accurately than in the days of the 1927 New England floods, thanks to advanced computers and communication networks such as the NOAA Weather Radio.

"Having a NOAA Weather Radio in your home can help keep you and your family informed about severe weather and flooding by providing up-to-the-minute weather information round-the-clock," said Summer.

For the 1927 New England flood, all lives lost occurred in Vermont with the exception of a death in Rhode Island. Of the Vermont fatalities, 55 were in the Winooski Valley where the storm's heaviest rains fell during the night time hours, according to Albert Kachic, a retired weather service regional hydrologist who specializes in flood history. Total property damage was conservatively estimated as $40 million ($960 million in 1997 dollars), of which $28 million dollars ($672 million in 1997 dollars) occurred in Vermont.

"In many areas, the rivers and streams rose so rapidly and at night that the inhabitants were taken by surprise," Kachic said. "Many were unable to escape to safety before being drowned in their houses. Rushing waters washed out bridges, retaining walls, dams, road embankments, houses, building, and farm lands."

The area of greatest precipitation was centered along the Green Mountains of Vermont and extended southward across Massachusetts into Connecticut. In this area, upwards of nine inches of rain landed on ground already saturated by heavy rains that fell from Oct. 18-21, 1927. Swamps and lakes were already full and most of the streams and creeks were running bank full, Kachic said. As a result, the rivers, small streams and creeks quickly overflowed their banks and filled many valleys from hill to hill.

"Flood records in New England since 1683 indicate that most dangerous floods usually occur between January and April with a small percentage in the summer or fall," Kachic noted. "The November floods came as a great surprise."

The rainfall from Nov. 2-4 broke all records for continuous rain in Vermont, and many 24-hour records throughout the region with the areas of greatest recorded rainfall were in Vermont, eastern and western Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

At Burlington, Vt., the total rainfall for the period was 5.62 inches, of which 4.49 fell in 24 hours, according to weather service records. At Northfield, the storm total was 8.63 inches and the 24 hour fall 7.61 inches. Somerset, Vt., in the Connecticut River Basin, recorded 8.77 inches in 24 hours with a storm total of 9.65 inches, the maximum recorded.

Other points in Vermont where rainfall exceeded seven inches for Nov. 2-4 are Bennington, 7.63 inches; Cavendish, 7.96 inches; Chelsea, 7.35 inches; Rutland, 8.47 inches; Searsburg Mountain, 8.30 inches; and Woodstock, 7.38 inches.

The average rainfall over the Connecticut Valley for Nov. 3-4 was 4.43 inches, with a maximum of 6.41 inches at White River Junction, Vt., and 6.39 inches at St. Johnsbury, Vt. Unofficial reports from other points in New Hampshire and Vermont indicated even heavier rains -- as much as 15 inches in some mountain areas.

Major or record flooding occurred in virtually all of Vermont and New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and western Connecticut. There were lesser floods in western Maine, eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. Flooding was the most severe in the White and Winooski River Basins of Vermont, where the loss of life and property marked the disaster as the greatest in the history of the valleys.

The Winooski River at Montpelier, Vt., was three feet higher than the previous record and the entire business district was under eight to 10 feet of water. At White River Junction, Vt., the Connecticut River was five feet higher than the former record of March, 1913, and at Bellows Falls, Vt., 6.6 feet higher than in 1913. The crest of the flood on the Pemigewasset River at Plymouth, NH was nine feet higher than previously recorded peaks, and at Franklin Junction on the Merrimack River it was seven feet higher.

Other streams where exceptional flood stages were observed were the Missisquoi, Ottauquechee, Jail Branch, Dog, and Lamoille Rivers and Otter Creek in Vermont; the Androscoggin River in Maine; the Ashuelot, Bakers, Israel, Ammonoosuc, and Pemigewasset rivers in New Hampshire; the Housatonic and Westfield in Massachusetts; the Farmington, Housatonic, and Naugatuck in Connecticut; and the Batten Kill at Battenville and the Hoosic River near Eagle Bridge in New York.