Tag Archives: Hurricane Donna

Stormy Weather: Hurricane Donna 1960

This week’s ancestor story isn’t an ancestor at all – it’s one of my earliest memories about a weather event. I’ve already blogged about multiple ancestors who endured “storms” of bad things and my immediate family on my mother’s side lived in New England so I am sure there were some blizzards up their way, but I know nothing about them.

My earliest memory about some type of weather is Hurricane Donna, which hit the East Coast, from Florida to Maine, during the first two weeks of September 1960.

Frequently, when we look back at events that happened many years ago, we find that our memories don’t match reality. Hurricane Donna made a definite impression on me, as it is the only hurricane I remember (and I remembered its name – Donna – too). I remember snow, but no one snowstorm has stuck in my mind.

Even after all these years, when I saw the prompt for this week, Hurricane Donna jumped to mind right away. I was a little girl when this hurricane arrived in New Jersey and I have two basic memories. First, I remember that we were sent home from school so that we would be safe in our homes when it hit – and a hurricane was described as a very scary, threatening event.

#10 School had no cafeteria and only the teachers ate lunch at school. We all walked home about 11:30 in the morning for lunch break and returned to classes about 12:50 in the afternoon. I lived two long blocks up from the school, two shorter blocks to the right and then a left turn about half way up Summer Street.

SummerStMap
Google Maps: 1/2 Mile From Home to School

Being sent home from school just meant that school was cancelled for the afternoon session that day. My second memory is sitting on our front porch waiting with a friend or two (I don’t remember which friends) for the rain to begin.

49 Summer Street

The wind was whipping around and we quickly went inside because we were getting wet sitting out there. My impression was that the “hurricane” wasn’t that bad and it was basically a messy rainstorm.

I decided to see if my memories squared with reality. I couldn’t find much in the way of photos of New Jersey in Hurricane Donna, except for a few of the coastal areas. There is a great weather history site I found: http://www.hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com/hurricanedonna.html, detailing the storm history and including some photos. I also found a trajectory map of the path of Hurricane Donna.

On September 4, 1960, Hurricane Donna was named a Category 5 hurricane, which meant winds higher than 155 mph! As it crossed the Atlantic and reached the Caribbean, it was at full force.

HurricaneDonnaMap
Map: www.hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com

It reached Florida on September 10, causing heavy damage there, before heading up the coast to New Jersey.

Back in the old days, school traditionally began on the Tuesday after Labor Day, which in 1960 was on September 6. We were only one week into the new school year. It reached the New York metropolitan area on Monday, September 12, but the hurricane had weakened considerably by then and was “only” a Category 2 hurricane. On September 13, it reached Maine and by the 14th, had dissipated into a rainstorm.

I found no photos of Hurricane Donna damage in New Jersey online. I think that is because my memories are actually quite accurate. Hurricane Donna caused huge amounts of damage, but not in the NYC metro area. The hurricane hit on a school day, the afternoon session was cancelled, it was wet and windy but not devastating and there was little permanent damage in Passaic, NJ.

I guess this memory was deeply engrained enough that it has remained accurate after all these years!