One Heck Of A Northeaster

Over 100 beachfront houses in Suffolk County were destroyed during the great northeaster of 1962, 50 years ago today. Everett T. Rattray

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of an event few or many will want to celebrate, depending upon your point of view: the final day of the great northeaster of 1962.
    “The culprit was an intense low that developed and then drifted off the Carolina coast March 6th to 8th,” according to Nelson Vaz, a forecaster who studies coastal flooding at the National Weather Service’s New York office. The storm system sat in place over the mid-Atlantic coastline for three days, covering five high tides, battering beachfront towns from the Virginias to Montauk with tides three and a half feet higher than normal, each tide higher than the preceding one.
    “You have counterclockwise-rotating east-southeast winds piling water up against the coast. If you continue having these conditions as you go through successive cycles, each high tide will go higher,” Mr. Vaz said.
    According to reporting in the March 8 and March 15, 1962, issues of The East Hampton Star, more than 100 houses in Suffolk County were lost to the storm.
    “I remember the erosion,” Richard H. Hendrickson, 71, of East Hampton said on Monday. “A good friend of mine was in Southampton. We wanted to see the damage; we drove around. Ocean Road in Bridgehampton was impassible south of Mecox. In Sagaponack, most of the beach was washed away.”
    “The clubhouse of Bridgehampton Associates Inc., known locally as the Bridgehampton Beach club, was a total loss, along with a number of smaller buildings on the oceanfront,” The Star reported.
    One storm-related casualty was a bay-front house at the end of Fresh Pond Road in Amagansett. The Star said that Mrs. Elbert Parsons was awakened at about 1 a.m. by the sound of breaking glass and found her porch ablaze. She barely escaped the fire with her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Susan. The flame, fanned by 60-mile-per-hour winds, completely destroyed the house. The wind was blowing so hard that firemen couldn’t get water onto the flames.
    In Wainscott, summer houses on the beach were undercut and toppled over, The Star reported. Two large summer houses in Southampton were reported to have been destroyed.
    “These storms happen every 15 to 20 years,” Mr. Vaz said. The last one on such a scale to hit the East End was more than 20 years ago, the Halloween northeaster of 1991.