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Blast from the Past: Hurricane Gloria Left Its Mark On Connecticut

Blast from the Past: Hurricane Gloria Left Its Mark On Connecticut

Pandemic? Check. Economic turmoil? Check. Civil unrest and a disturbing rise in violence across the country? Check and check.

Even Mother Nature has gotten in on the act, with devastating wildfires raging across California at the moment and portions of the Northeast still cleaning up after August storms knocked down trees and cut power to hundreds of thousands of households.

It’s safe to say that, in the decades to come, many a word will be printed about 2020 trying to explain to subsequent generations what it was like to live through such times.

In comparison, what happened in the early fall of 1985 seems tame. In fact, mention Hurricane Gloria to anyone who wasn’t living in the Northeast in the mid-1980s and you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare.

But for those of us who did reside in Connecticut in 1985, Gloria left a lasting impression.

Gloria arrived on the radar on Sept. 16, forming in the Atlantic and quickly intensifying. At one point, right before making landfall at the Outer Banks, the hurricane produced winds in excess of 145 miles per hour.

While it had weakened a bit by the time it came ashore, Gloria still produced devastating winds and soaking rain. 

After first striking North Carolina, it made its way up the eastern seaboard, hitting Long Island and Connecticut on Sept. 27. The storm continued to move north until dissipating over Canada on Oct. 2.

The storm was noteworthy not only for its powerful winds and scope of destruction, but also for the fact that, in the Tri-State area at least, it was the first major storm of its kind since 1960, when Hurricane Donna made landfall in the Northeast.

In total, 14 people lost their lives during the storm and four million people were without power for days on end. In fact, up until 2011, Hurricane Gloria accounted for the worst power outage in Connecticut history related to a natural disaster.

The front page of the Oct. 3, 1985 Cheshire Herald told the tale of how the town had fared. A picture of the historic Hitchcock-Phillips House in the center of town, shown with a large tree leaning on the roof, explained that it, like many other structures in Cheshire, had been spared “the wrath” of Hurricane Gloria. Another photo showed the damage to Chapman Farm, with crops seemingly crushed by the devastating winds.

As The Herald’s article that week explained, Gloria had left its mark on the community:

Powerful Hurricane Gloria pummeled Cheshire and much of the rest of the state during the midday hours on Sept. 27, leaving behind a trail of felled, once-majestic trees locally and a tangle of downed power lines that prevented the return of electricity  for some local customers until Monday, Sept. 30. 

Hurricane damage to private and public property was in evidence in many places, usually in the form of destroyed trees, which fell against houses and caused structural damage in some instances.

...A tree crashed through the attic and into an upstairs bedroom of a residence at 11 Country Club Rd. A limb fell onto a passing car at Academy Road and Elm Street at the height of the storm, miraculously failing to injure the lone driver. Twenty-five-year-old John Bishop of Stony Hill Circle was killed during the height of the storm when the Moped he was riding went out of control on South Main Street, throwing the driver.

The article went on to explain how the Town, including local police officers and firefighters as well as Public Works crews, had mobilized in anticipation of the storm, and worked day and night responding to emergency calls and clearing trees from roads and power lines. According to The Herald’s reporting, winds of 90 miles per hour had been reported just before the storm’s eye settled over the area sometime mid-afternoon:

Damage to public property here was minimal, Public Works Director Thomas Crowe noted Saturday. Trees were felled in a number of locations, including on the high school lawn; the damage to private property was considerably more extensive.

A large evergreen fell and just barely missed crushing the Jackson and Reed Offices at 163 South Main Street. A similar near-miss occurred adjacent to the Mee & Greene Design, Inc. offices on Main Street.

Limbs cracked and boughs swayed as, buffeted by wind gusts, long-standing trees  tried to withstand the intense winds and moderately heavy rain. At about 1:30 p.m. a tree toppled across Horton Avenue, across from the public library, and the scene was repeated elsewhere as roads were closed for clearance.

The article explained how, after the storm had passed, unseasonably warm and sunny weather moved into the area for the next few days, allowing residents to get outside and assess the damage. The scheduled football game between Cheshire and Lyman Hall was canceled and few businesses were open due to the lack of power.

However, it seems the Post Office did open the very next day following the storm, and workers put in their normal schedules and tried to follow their normal routes, even without any power and while navigating a series of closed roads.

As one would expect, that week’s paper was filled with photos from the storm and announcements of cancellations or activities scheduled in the wake of Gloria. One particularly striking photo showed a utility pole snapped nearly in half, almost as if a bolt of lightning had split it in two.

In its editorial for the week, The Herald spoke of how the storm had impacted the community, as well as how the community responded. The editorial singled out several community leaders for their tireless work during the storm and commended residents for all the acts of kindness that had been seen and reported throughout the days following Gloria:

Looking back, the hurricane could have caused more damage than it did. Structural damage was at a minimum and was confined to those instances when trees struck homes and businesses. There were no water damages to speak of, as the storm lacked the water supply visited upon Cheshire in the “100 year storm” of 1982.

There have been criticisms directed at the response of the utilities repair crews, but here too credit if in order. The job was far from a simply one, and the overtime accumulation and sense of crisis added to the significance of the task at hand. There was relatively swift restoration of power to most of Cheshire.

Much of what was described in the aftermath of Gloria feels eerily similar to what the state just experienced in early August of this year. Fallen limbs strewn across the road. Homes damaged by trees knocked over by high winds. Power outages that lasted for days.

In 1985, it had been 25 years since a hurricane of Gloria’s magnitude hit Connecticut. The state didn’t have to wait long for the next one, as Hurricane Bob made landfall in August of 1991, as a Category 1 storm. While Bob produced damage, it did not leave the lasting impression as did Gloria.

For a new generation, however, Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm of 2011, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Tropical Storm Isaias this year will most likely be the events to which they most often point when asked to recall their most memorable run-ins with Mother Nature.

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