A Review of Past Local Hurricane News Coverage and Emergency Planning

Avon Patch reviewed old town documents and newspaper articles in the archives at the Avon Free Public Library to get a sense of the history of hurricanes hitting Avon.

After Hurricane Irene was downgraded to Tropical Storm Irene, hitting some parts of the state harder than others, some Avon residents have called the pre-storm media coverage and state and local government’s emergency preparedness messages “hype.” 

Now there is talk of , which started off as a tropical storm and is traveling up the Atlantic Ocean and it remains to be seen whether it will hit Connecticut. 

WFSB meteorologist Scott Haney said that Katia, expected to become a Category 3 hurricane within the next few days, may miss the east coast entirely if it turns to the northeast Tuesday, "several hundred miles" away from Cape Cod, according to the latest forecast.

Otherwise, Katia could hit the Cape and the southeastern portion of New England by Friday, according to meteorologist Gil Simmons of WTNH, who was cited by The Connecticut Post.

The National Weather Service forecasts heavy rain and possible thunderstorms on Sunday during Labor Day weekend. 

With all of the storm coverage going on presently, Avon Patch sat down in the History Room at and sifted through the archives to see how hurricanes hitting Avon and the Farmington Valley were covered in the news and handled by town staff in the past.

Hurricane of 1938

“The most deadly, most destructive and most costly disaster ever to befall this section of the country was the Hurricane of 1938,” Charles Monagan wrote in his article, “The Wind That Shook Connecticut: The Hurricane of 1938“ for a Connecticut magazine around 1978.

Hundreds died, so when The Hartford Courant quoted meteorologist Henry Hathaway stating that “no last-minute warning of the hurricane had been given because the resulting panic would have been more damaging than the storm,” many Connecticut residents were upset.

Monagan said that could be a reason for the “hype” in storm coverage, noting that since then weather reporters and meteorologists became “more vigilant” about announcing hurricanes to make up for a lack of public notification in 1938.

The hurricane did not have a name, as it was not common practice at the time, he wrote. The storm started as a low-pressure system in the western Sahara during the second week of September and drifted from the African coast to the Cape Verde Islands within two day, eventually making it to the Atlantic Coast, according to the article.

He wrote that The Hartford Courant described fences ripping out of the ground and floating “like paper” in the air during the hurricane. Brick walls were also damaged and the strong winds whipped people’s feet “out from under them,” The Hartford Courant further reported. People were killed in cars, homes and streets, as well as by fallen trees, electrical wires and chimneys, collapsed garages and buildings, according to The Hartford Courant.

Monagan also reported in his magazine article that 2,000 inmates at Middletown mental institution were “driven into mass hysteria” during the Hurricane of 1938 and they “settled down when the wind did.”

The United States Weather Bureau did not have planes, radars or satellites tracking storms, though there were some weather stations in the Caribbean, established after the Spanish American war, Monagan wrote.

Advancements have, of course, been made since them, and all hurricanes are now named, such as Carol and Hazel in 1954, Connie and Diane in 1955, the year of the infamous flood, as well as Hurricane Camile in 1969, and Belle in 1976, Monagan reported.

Hurricane Gloria

Leading up to the storm last Sunday, many meteorologists said that Hurricane Irene would be worse than Hurricane Gloria in 1985, but not as bad as the Hurricane of 1938.

“She came, she saw, but Hurricane Gloria didn’t conquer the town when she made her appearance Friday,” Catherine Frank, of the The Avon News reported in 1985, describing closed schools and stores, tape on windows and barricaded doors at businesses to reduce the chance of shattering, power outages and residents shopping for candles and batteries.

Philip K. Schenck Jr. was town manager in Avon at the time. He wrote in a memorandum to the emergency management staff, “While the storm may not have lived up to its potential, the enthusiasm, dedication and responsibility which you all showed was indicative of your commitment to the town and its residents.”

That reflects the same sentiment in the aftermath of Irene, although she did knock out the power of 20 percent of Avon CL&P customers and caused many road closures due to fallen trees, downed and live wires, and flooding.

The town’s emergency system was similar, as emergency management staff in 1985 opened an emergency operation center at the Avon Police Department and designated a shelter. The Avon News reported it was only opened in the evenings “so that residents without electricity could enjoy a hot shower.” The Darling Drive and West Avon Road fire houses were also open to the public for “food and company,” The Avon News reported.

Hurricane Gloria cost a total of $24,914.01 for personnel, equipment, materials and contracted services, according to town records. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the town of Avon $17,859 in relief funds for the storm, which covered 75 percent of the expense, and the state reimbursed the town for 25 percent with $5,953.

Darcy Rudnick, of the former Farmington Valley Herald, featured excerpts of Pine Grove Schoolhouse students’ poems about the Hurricane of 1938. The poems were featured in a hard cover book, “The Hurricane.”

One of the students drew a picture of a man marooned on a raft, crying, “Help, help, help,” Rudnick reported.

Sixth-grade student Jeannette Petersen wrote, “Water was up to the doorstep of the Avon Diner,” also describing squash and tomatoes floating around the diner on Route 44, as Rudnick reported. The diner does not exist any more.

Peterson's classmate, Arthur Nielsen wrote, “Now if I were the Hurricane’s Keeper/What a splendid thing T’would be/For I’d lock him tight in an iron box/ and sink him beneath the sea,” according to Rudnick.

The editor of the journal, Eunice Thompson wrote that the bridge in Unionville Center “was out” and the post office closed due to 60 mile-an-hour winds that took down trees, blocking roads, based on Rudnick's article.

Telephone poles were broken and trees were uprooted, their teacher, E.M. Felth wrote in a joint account of the storm that she helped her students compile, Rudnick reported. Felth and the class described the hurricane as “small” and wrote that it started with rain at 3 p.m. in the afternoon on that September Wednesday, according to the article.

“The rain was so heavy it looked like fog,” Felth wrote, as reported by Rudnick. “The electricity was shut off to prevent fires, which might be caused by the storm.”

The Flood of ‘55

Michelle Richmond of The Avon Post interviewed area resident Janet Caville in August 2005 about her recollections of the Flood of ’55.

Richmond reported that Caville, who was 16 at the time, said a house floated under the Unionville Bridge, and her father, who was involved in local emergency management, was out helping with storm relief and emergency response for five days.

The phones were working, but the power was out, Caville told The Avon Post.

“Saving our cattle was our main concern,” Caville told The Avon Post.

Caville told the newspaper that she and some others “hauled them up hill with a diesel tractor.” Army rescuers came to evacuate them in a boat that could only fit three people at a time, Caville told The Avon Post. She and the people that could not fit in the boat climbed up Avon Mountain to get to the Avon Old Farms Inn and the owner at the time would not let them in, according to the newspaper article.

Carl Pratt was town manager at the time. Town and state officials declared a state of emergency and asked that rode use be limited,” according to another article in The Avon Post.

The Hartford Times reported in 1955 that no one from Avon died as a result of the flood. 

Editor's Note: If you have any stories you would like to share about past hurricanes or photos, please contact us at Jessie.Sawyer@patch.com or 860-356-6339.


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