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Scientist says 1938 storm is still relevant


STONINGTON — The Great Hurricane of 1938 is a “startling and depressing topic,” said Adam Whelchel, but on Saturday he hopes to draw some lessons from it that will help shoreline communities in the future.

Whelchel, director of science for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, will speak of hurricanes past, as well as the future, at the La Grua Center at 6 p.m., on the 75th anniversary of the 1938 hurricane.

It’s rare these days, Whelchel said, to run into someone who can still remember the hurricane nicknamed “The Long Island Express.” But after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, shoreline residents have pretty much been reminded of the havoc that a hurricane can inflict.

As part of his work for The Nature Conservancy, Whelchel has been developing tools to help communities become more resilient and make better decisions about extreme weather. The peak event, and worst-case scenario, that he uses in his model is the Category 3 1938 hurricane.

Whelchel, who has a doctoral degree in wetlands science, said he has “a ton of facts” about the 1938 tempest, as well as “remarkable stories and photographs.”

In his presentation, he will discuss whether there were lessons in the 1938 hurricane, or Irene or Sandy, that went unheeded. If another Category 3 hurricane were to hit today, with the extra 75 years of building and growth along the shore, what kind of damage would it cause? How much would it cost?

The point, Whelchel explained, is that communities need to be proactive.

“Think about what you could do before the storm,” he said. And as for the probability of another hurricane ever hitting our shores, “it’s when, not if.”

Saturday will not be the first time Whelchel has spoken on this topic in Stonington. As part of his job to discuss these topics around the region, he’s given workshops a few times here since 2009.

“It’s been an ongoing conversation,” he said.

He has already worked with about 20 different municipalities around the state, he said, from large ones like Bridgeport to the much smaller East Lyme. There are many commonalities in preparation techniques, but they need to be tailored to each community’s needs. Towns need to know that they’re not alone in this, Whelchel said, and that some storm preparations are easier and cheaper to pull off than others.

“The point here is to get started doing something,” said Whelchel. “Bottom line, it’s all about the community and providing them with advice and tools.”

Whelchel’s talk is free and open to the public.

lrovetti@thewesterlysun.com



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