Hurricane Bob: marking 30 years since the storm roared ashore

The category 2 hurricane made landfall in Rhode Island on August 19, 1991

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Thursday marks 30 years since the last time southern New England took a direct hit from a landfalling hurricane.  Hurricane Bob roared ashore twice in Rhode Island on the afternoon of August 19th 1991: first on Block Island, then in Newport.  The category 2 storm killed 6 people in southern New England and knocked out power to 60% of our area.

Susan Ste. Marie was living in Fairhaven at the time.  Eight trees came down on her property alone.  She had no power for 2 weeks.

Ste. Marie says, “We were all huddled in together, and I remember everyone running from one side to the other.  They just kept running.  The trees were falling on both sides of the house.”

The storm developed quickly, leaving the National Weather Service scrambling to beef up their staffing.  Bob Thompson, now retired, was the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Boston office.

Thompson says, “Now remember in those days, we didn’t do a computerized database like we do now, and have the computer come out with the forecast.  We actually typed the forecast.  And I remember thinking ‘What do I type when we’ve got a hurricane coming in our direction?”

He says when word got out about the storm, a lot of people who were away for the weekend hit the roads, trying to get home before it arrived.

Thompson says, “I remember getting a call from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency saying ‘We’ve got a big backup of people trying to get off Cape Cod over the bridges.’  Turned out everyone got off, but it was a little close for comfort for sure.”

Thompson says there’s now an emergency traffic plan to get people off the Cape.  He also points out that hurricane forecasting has improved since 1991, giving us more time to prepare.


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