When 13-year-old Charles Orloff stepped outside his seaside home in Groton, Conn., on Aug. 31, 1954, the young weather enthusiast knew something was unusual. The morning sky had a sickly yellow tint, and the ocean was calm, but creeping steadily up the shore.
Orloff was in the eye of Hurricane Carol, a category 3 hurricane that killed 60 and would go down as one of the deadliest storms to ever hit New England.
Sixty-one years later, the storm’s anniversary still serves as a reminder that the Atlantic hurricane season can have a powerful effect on the region.
Now 74, Orloff is executive director of the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center in Milton. In 2004, he wrote, "Carol at 50: Remembering Her Fury," which details the path of destruction.
"All hell broke loose," Orloff said. "It passed right over the suburbs of Boston with winds at 125 miles per hour. ... Entire fishing fleets were destroyed."
The hurricane drove a 10-to-14-foot wall of water over the coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, Orloff said.
When skies finally cleared and waters receded, New Englanders were left to clean up damage that amounted to more than $4 billion in today’s dollars. More than 1,500 homes and 3,000 boats were destroyed.
The town of Wareham was almost completely wiped out, as was Horseneck Beach and communities surrounding Buzzards Bay, according to Orloff.
By 11:05 a.m. on the day of the storm, damaging winds over 100 miles per hour were tearing up Boston. In the North End, the historic Old North Church gave way to the cyclone.
"The entire steeple was waving in the breeze," Orloff said, "and finally at about 11:30 [a.m.], the entire top of the Old North Church toppled down and smashed on the street below."
In Westport, a restaurant washed out to sea, and diners and employees had to be rescued from the floating building
After Carol wrecked havoc on the Massachusetts coast, it barreled up the coast of Maine and finally dissipated into the Atlantic Ocean.
Residents of Southeastern Massachusetts barely had a week to recover before they were hit again, by Hurricane Edna, a Category 3 storm that mainly affected Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod.
The second hurricane resulted in 20 deaths and $40 million in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"The only thing close to Carol before that was the Great Hurricane of 1938," Orloff said. That category 5 hurricane pounded New England with even less warning than Carol, killing over 700 people, he said.
Fortunately, meteorologists are now able to predict potential hurricane paths with much greater accuracy than they could in 1938 and 1954.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is not predicted to produce any storms close to the strength of Carol or Edna, said Bill Simpson, a weather service meteorologist.
“Realistically [hurricane season] is through October, so we still have a way to go,” Simpson said. "This year as predicted hasn't been that conducive for hurricanes."
Tropical storms that make it to New England are rare, but most often start out as destructive systems in the Bahamas, Leeward Islands, and Puerto Rico, just as Hurricane Carol did.
Sarah Roberts can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @heysarahroberts