Paul is a New York Emmy award winner (2007), five-time Emmy nominee, and four-time winner of the Connecticut Associated Press Broadcasters' Association award for 'Best Weathercast' in Connecticut (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012) ... The local weather journal is a two-time winner of the Communicator Award of Distinction (2012 & 2013) ... Paul was inducted into the Housatonic Community College Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Alumni Award (2012) ... Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulPiorek ...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Remembering the Devastating Flood of October 14 & 15, 1955

The following was written by Brent M. Colley on the 50th anniversary of the October 14 & 15 devastating flood and printed by the Norwalk River Watershed Association

In 1955, the worst natural disasters to strike Connecticut since the hurricane of 1938 occurred within a two-month span. Two hurricanes, one tropical storm, and a pair of floods ravaged homes and businesses throughout the state in the months of August and October.

The August disaster was a result of back-to-back hurricanes in mid-August 1955. Hurricanes Connie and Diane arrived toward the end of a wetter-than-usual Summer, combining to drop over 24 inches of rain on the Northern regions of Connecticut between August 13th and August 20th, leaving record levels of flooding and widespread havoc in their wake.

Many Connecticut rivers, particularly the Housatonic, Naugatuck, Still, Quinebaug, Mad, and Farmington, overflowed their banks as never before; towns and cities in Litchfield and Hartford counties were particularly hard hit. The downtowns of many cities were devastated, including Winsted where the downtown was completely washed away. Property damage mounted into the tens of millions of dollars. Almost 100 people were killed, an estimated 4,700 were injured, and countless others were left homeless.

Surprisingly, towns and residents of the Norwalk and Saugatuck Watershed in the Southwestern section of Connecticut did not sustain rainfall accumulations as high as those to the north and were spared of flood conditions in August. Their time was yet to come.

The Cross Street Bridge in Norwalk, underwater, collapsed, and buried in debris. This was the highway from New York to Boston.

In October, a four day tropical storm dumped an additional 12-14 inches of rain on southwestern New England. This event was not as widespread as the August storms; however, the Flood of October, 1955, was devastating to the local communities along the Norwalk and Saugatuck Rivers. Millions of dollars and several lives were lost as a result of the rains that fell between Friday Oct. 14, and Monday Oct. 17th, 1955. 

Newspaper reports from several local publications varied greatly on the amount of rain and the amount of time in which it fell. These numbers varied from the 12.58 inches reported by Georgetown Weatherman's George Howes to as much as 13.88 inches reported in Ridgefield. The time frame also varied from 36 hours to 48 hours depending on the source of information. Regardless of the exact amount and time frame, a great deal of rain fell upon an already saturated watershed on the weekend of October 14th, 1955.

The dam broke and was washed away at the Gilbert and Bennett factory in Georgetown.

All of Fairfield County was hit, but Branchville, Georgetown, Norwalk, Wilton, and sections of Ridgefield were hit worse, because of the Norwalk River. According to Charles Howes, Georgetown's weather observer, and his assistant, Conrad Borgensen. Starting at 7am on Friday morning, Mr. Howes recorded .62 inches by 5:30pm, and another 2 inches by midnight. By noon Saturday, another 2.23 inches had fallen. During the next 24 hours, 7.82 inches of rain was dumped upon this area.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, the Georgetown Fire Department and all available men were stationed at the bridges into town and at Branchville. The danger: fire and/or explosions from the washed-out gasoline tanks of the Branchville Motors garage, their contents riding the crest of the flood, causing alarm for several hours.

By 6pm the Norwalk River had flooded Route 7 from Branchville Station to just south of the Georgetown Motors garage. The Branchville train station, businesses, and homes in the area were swamped, the bridge near Branchville cemetery completely washed away.

Shortly after 6pm residents were evacuated from Branchville and Georgetown, some by boat, others by heavy-duty trucks. Residents who did not have relatives or friends they could not reach in the area were taken to the Georgetown Firehouse where they remained overnight.

Bridge approach washed out entering Wilton from New Canaan (on the Silvermine River). A dog checks it out.

The Press reported the Peatt family on Mamanasco Lake brought in boats and "went to Branchville to rescue some people whose houses were surrounded by still rising waters of the Norwalk River."

A house in Norwalk that has become an island in a turbulent river. The floodwaters had dropped from from their peak when this shot was taken.

Nazzareno Ancona reported seeing the gas station on Route 7 flooded with water half-way up the garage door, water coming in the back door and coming out the front door "bringing everything with it," he said.

The dam at Perry's Pond, on Route 53, above Georgetown (now Route 107) gave way a little before 9pm Saturday night sending a rush of water into the heart of Georgetown. In addition, there was a landslide about a half mile up Route 53 (now Route 107), but cars were able to get through.

At 9pm a northbound train out of Norwalk came to a halt in the "wilds" between Honey Hill and Seeley Roads in Cannondale. The stalled train and its 83 passengers would remain stranded for the next 14 hours until three U.S. Army helicopters were able to airlift them to safety in a rescue mission that spanned 3 hours. They were all transported to Danbury via buses.

By 10:30pm water was 4 feet deep in the center of Georgetown. Factory pond was so high that residents later reported water up to their porches on Portland Avenue.

The nearly 8 inches of rain that fell between Saturday and Sunday taxed the dams along the Norwalk River, in all likelihood already fatigued by the storms of August, to such an extent that at approximately 10:30pm the dam at Great Pond gave way, sending a surge of water through the Norwalk River Valley with such force that all dams and most of the bridges in its path crumbled in its wrath.

The concrete bridge on Route 7, which is parallel to the railroad trestle (between DeLuca's Hardware and Bob Sharp), crashed into the river just before 11pm Saturday night, and shortly after that the trestle, undermined by the flood waters, collapsed as well, leaving the tracks still spanning the river, but with no visible means of support.

Temporary bridge for Route 7 over Norwalk River.

At approximately 11pm, there was an audible "pop" as the embankment surrounding the the dam that had served the Gilbert & Bennett factory for over 100 years gave way sending water levels in Georgetown and through the factory to heights estimated from 8 to 12 feet deep.

Connery's Lumber Yard was washed away when the dam broke at the factory, and evidences of it could be found as far down the Norwalk River as Cannondale. It's safe to say Harold Connery was a good humored man. Following the Flood, Harold was asking all his customers downstream if they had received the shipments of lumber he sent them.

The dam at the "old mill" (Old Mill Road) went shorty after the dam at the factory gave way, sending more tons of water down the valley.

As dams to the north succumbed to the avalanche of water surging down the valley, Cannondale and Wilton were next in the river's path of destruction. Flood waters inflicted heavy damage on the New Haven Railroad tracks at several points in Wilton. The trestle in Cannondale, just below what was left of the Cannon Grange Hall, collapsed. At the northern approach to the Cannondale trestle, the tracks twisted crazily off their embankment; and were seriously undermined at several other points throughout Wilton.

Four Wilton bridges spanning the Norwalk River - at Honey Hill, Seeley, Old Ridgefield, and Kent Roads - were wiped out, as were bridges at Silver Spring and Cedar Roads. Washouts made other bridges at Old Mill Road, Wolfpit Road, Arrowhead Road, and Cannondale impassable; but these washouts and others in Silvermine were patched up with gravel on Monday and Tuesday by town road crews and contractors.

In houses along Cottage Row in the center of Wilton which frequently experienced cellar floods but nothing worse, the water rose above the main floors- almost to the ceilings in the Grover Bradley and George Barringer homes. The home of Mrs. Millie Beers in South Wilton was twisted off its foundation. Mrs. Beers was rescued by two firemen.

The Silvermine River in the southwest corner of Wilton also went on a rampage. Several families along the river fled their homes as the raging waters threatened to wash them away. Many evacuees spent the night with neighbors; several families slept in the Wilton Congregational Church and parsonage, the firehouse and town hall.

At Wall Street in Norwalk, more details of the destruction along the Norwalk River.

Over in Redding the damage was primarily roadway and bridge wash-outs along the Saugatuck and its tributaries. The small brook that courses down Route 53 (now 107), at the top of the Glen Hill, became a raging torrent undermining the road there. The road was passable until late Monday afternoon when, S. Harold Samuelson, first selectman of Redding, ordered the road closed.

Halfway down the Glen Hill, a landslide blocked the highway until Sunday afternoon, when a bulldozer pushed a one-way lane through it. At the foot of Glen Hill, the road was impassable over the bridge at the junction of Routes 53 and 107; the bridge withstood the raging Saugatuck, but the roadway was completely washed away on either side. On Monday afternoon, a car was still standing in a deep hole that had been the approach to the bridge, leaning crazily against a telephone pole. Further downstream was another car in the river. Its occupants had abandoned it on the road Saturday night.

Upstream was the site of the tragedy which saddened the whole town. At the Diamond Hill Road bridge, Edward Arthur Phoenix, 53, and his wife, Veronica, 47, of Fox Run Road lost their lives on Saturday night when the Phoenix's car was swept into the river below the bridge. Mr. and Mrs. Phoenix were coming home from dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Blair of Great Pasture Road.

A three and one-half hour frantic and near successful attempt to rescue Mrs. Phoenix from a tree, after her husband had been swept to his death, made the tragedy even more horrifying. While volunteer firemen and neighbors tried vainly to reach her in the darkness she clung doggedly to the tree, aware of the efforts to save her. But at length her strength failed and she fell into the river and drowned. At one time the rescuers were within 20 feet of the tree but were turned aside by the tremendous force of the torrent.

An Army helicopter spotted the woman's body Monday morning, 1,500 feet from the Diamond Hill Bridge. Mr. Phoenix's body was recovered early Tuesday about 50 feet further downstream.

All approaches to West Redding were blocked; not a bridge was left intact by the tributaries of the Saugatuck River. Route 53 all the way to Bethel was blocked, the only route to Bethel or Danbury left open was the Black Rock Turnpike, which people reached by devious ways.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Thursday Marks 33rd Anniversay of Hurricane Gloria

The heavy rain Tuesday brought flooding to many parts of southwestern Connecticut, the likes of which hadn't been seen in many years. However, 33 years ago today, a more significant storm was about to hit, resulting in significant wind damage, massive power outages, and heavy rain. That's when area  residents were bracing for Hurricane Gloria, which caused significant damage and destruction to the Northeast the next day.

I was a rookie educator at the time, having just secured my first position as a seventh grade teacher in a self-contained classroom at a private school in New Haven. Weather was my passion, naturally, and I was able to share my excitement at the upcoming storm. Just three weeks into the profession, I received a week's vacation unexpectedly.

I was also a weekend newscaster and disc jockey at WMMM radio in Westport. I received a phone call from program director Gary Zenobia just after I returned home from school on Thursday afternoon requesting that I host an overnight newscast to inform our listeners about the impending storm and emergency measures which may have to be taken. WMMM was a daytime-only station, meaning it was on the air during daylight hours and signed off at sunset, but this time it was granted an exception by the Federal Communications Commission.

As my family was applying tape to picture windows, securing lawn furniture, stocking up on non-perishable food, and checking batteries for flashlights and portable radios, I was packing a bag for my overnight stay at the radio station. We had a few reporters "on location" at various shelters throughout town, and then-First Selectman William Seiden joined me on the air most of the night to reassure listeners that their safety was our primary concern.

The overnight hours were anxious moments for all of us as we awaited the arrival of the storm. Local shelters began to fill up quickly, and I remember answering the telephone every couple of minutes from town residents who were sharing their concerns and fears. Gloria struck fast and furiously. The hurricane hit New York and Connecticut as a moderate hurricane early the next day. At the time of landfall on Long Island, Gloria had sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, while rapidly moving forward at 35 miles per hour.

This combination of sustained winds and rapid forward motion produced major hurricane conditions and gusts to 115 mph across a narrow area of Eastern Long Island, New York. Although Gloria was not a major hurricane when it struck Connecticut, it was still the most damaging hurricane to strike the state since Carol in 1954. The rain began overnight, and before long the winds became a serious matter.

As the morning wore on, Gloria continued to accelerate northward off the Eastern seaboard, brushing the coastlines of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey with hurricane-force gusts. Later that morning, Gloria finally crossed the coast of the United States mainland near western Long Island about 10-miles East of Kennedy International Airport. Passing over central Long Island, Gloria crossed the Connecticut coast near Bridgeport about 40 minutes later with sustained winds of 80 mph. By that time, I was already home, but there was no way I was going to go to sleep.

I vividly remember the eye of the hurricane passing almost directly overhead by midday. That's when the skies cleared, the winds calmed dramatically, and the damage was plainly visible. Downed trees, power lines, and debris scattered just about everywhere greeted us as we stepped outside. Naturally, the power was out, too, and we remained "in the dark" for almost six days. Needless to say, I didn't have to worry about any lesson plans for quite awhile.

There were very few wind reports near the area of landfall in New York and Connecticut due to the complete evacuation of Coast Guard personnel from stations across the region. The strongest official wind gust recorded on Long Island was 84 mph at Islip. In Connecticut, the National Weather Service at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford recorded sustained winds of 74 mph with a gust to 92 mph.

A barometric pressure of 28.37 inches was measured by aircraft when Gloria crossed Long Island. The National Weather Service at Kennedy International Airport recorded a minimum pressure of 28.57 inches, while Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport, Connecticut, recorded a low pressure of 28.47 inches. This was the lowest barometric pressure recorded in Connecticut and New York since Donna in 1960, 25 years earlier.

Gloria produced weak Category Two hurricane conditions across southwestern Connecticut. The storm continued to lose intensity as it passed over Long Island. Peak wind gusts in south-central and southeastern Connecticut were close to 95 mph as the tropical cyclone swept over the region. The metropolitan New Haven area was hit with wind gusts of 90 mph and heavy rain. There were only a few reports of minimal structural damage in southwestern Connecticut. Tree damage in Connecticut was heavy within 10 to 20 miles of the coast, and along the coast from around Bridgeport to New London.

By late Friday afternoon, the storm was long gone, but the cleanup was just staring. Since the power was out, my family and I headed to nearby Bridgeport to have dinner at a restaurant which was operating on emergency generators. I still think of Gloria whenever I drive past that restaurant. In fact, I still have my framed certificate from Mr. Seiden thanking me for my service to Westport. It was a storm I'll never forget.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Autumn Officially Arrives This Evening in the Northern Hemisphere

The Autumnal Equinox officially arrives this evening at 9:54 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. That's when the direct rays of the Sun are above the Equator, technically marking "equal day and equal night" across the face of the globe. As the direct rays of the Sun continue to move South of the Equator, the Southern Hemisphere will be enjoying the start of Spring next week.

However, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the amount of daylight continues to dwindle, and the Sun now sets before 7 o'clock in the evening. Recall that in late June, during the time of the Summer Solstice, the Sun set at 8:30. We've lost more than an hour-and-a-half of daylight just in the evening alone over the last three months.


So why does the Equinox happen? The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5ยบ tilt of the Earth's axis. Because the Earth is rotating like a top, it points in a fixed direction continuously toward a point in space near the North Star. That's why the North Star appears to be the only star which doesn't move in our night sky. However, the Earth is also revolving around the Sun. During half of the year, the Southern Hemisphere is more exposed to the Sun than the Northern Hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true.


At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the Sun appears high in the sky during the Summer and low in the sky during Winter. It is highest at the Summer Solstice in late June and lowest at the Winter Solstice by the end of December. The half-way points in the year are called the Equinoxes. It is the time of the year when the Sun rises exactly in the East, travels through the sky for 12 hours, and sets exactly in the West. The photo below shows visitors at Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain in England.


However, on the Autumnal Equinox in southwestern Connecticut, the Sun rises at 6:40 a.m. and sets at 6:50 p.m., giving us 12 hours and ten minutes of daylight. That has to do with the angle at which the Sun rises and sets. Actually, "equal day and equal night" occurs for us on September 25th and 26th when we receive just about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

Enjoy the final hours of Summer. Autumn will be here before you know it.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Today Marks 63rd Anniversary of The Great Flood of 1955

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of The Flood of 1955, which was the direct result of the effects of hurricanes Connie and Diane less than a week apart in August of 1955.

Here is the front-page story from The Bridgeport Telegram the following day, Saturday, August 20, 1955. Please click "view" to enlarge and read.