Comparing Irene and Lee to Connie and Diane

Here in Connecticut many have made the comparison between the flooding after Irene and Lee in 2011 to the flooding following Connie and Diane in 1955. Both flooding events came following 2 back-to-back tropical systems. The similarities, however, stop there.

Besides the 1938 hurricane, the 1955 flood was arguably the greatest natural disaster in Connecticut since colonial times. The amount of rain that fell in August 1955 is so off the charts no event has come anywhere close to it in the last 100 years. The monthly record of 21.87″ at Bradley Airport stands alone as the wettest month on record – the second highest 16.32″ from October 2005 lags far behind.

Hurricane Connie

Hurricane Connie made landfall over the Outer Banks as a minimal hurricane on August 12, 1955. The storm moved slowly up the Chesapeake Bay and dumped 5″-10″ of rain in portions of northwest Connecticut. Connie barely produced any wind in Connecticut as she passed to the west but dropped enough rain to saturate the soil and raise river levels above flood stage.

Hurricane Diane

5 days after Connie, Hurricane Diane made landfall in North Carolina very close to where Connie struck. The storm moved inland and then was picked up by a strong trough diving into the Great lakes. An exceptional band of rain setup over northwest Connecticut and western Massachusetts as the storm passed over Long Island. 10″-20″ of rain was common in many areas. When preceded by Connie’s 5″-10″ of rain Diane’s record 24 hour rainfall was enough to push rivers to levels that hadn’t been seen in hundreds of years.

August 1955 Rain

The all-time 24 hour rain record in Connecticut occurred on August 19th in Burlington with 12.77″ falling. In Westfield, Massachusetts an incredible 1-day total of 19.75″ fell. A close up look at the 8-day rain totals from August 12, 1955 to August 20, 1955 reveal just how exceptional this flood event was.

August 12, 1955 to August 20, 1955 Rain

The 1955 floods destroyed entire neighborhoods, entire downtowns, and entire families. Waterbury, Winsted, Naugatuck, Derby, Ansonia, Farmington, New Hartford, and Putnam are just some of the towns and cities that were changed forever.

With the amount of rain that fell it’s not surprising the 1955 floods set records on the Quinebaug, Farmington, and Naugatuck Rivers.  The Army Corps of Engineers built a monstrous system of levees and dams on those rivers to prevent a flood like the ’55 one from happening again. Barring an unforeseen catastrophic failure of the dam and levee system a flood to the level of 1955 will never happen again on those rivers.

There’s no doubt that the combination of Irene and Lee dropped an impressive amount of rain on Connecticut. Some areas picked up 10″-15″ in a 2 week period! The fact that the Irene/Lee rain was spread out over 13 days and not the 8 days of Connie/Diane makes a big difference. The difference between 10″-15″ and 20″-25″ in a river basin is huge as well! From the time the rains from Connie ended there was only about 48 hours until the rains from Diane began.

The flooding from Irene and Lee was significant. The 1955 flood was extraordinary. The August 1955 flood and rainfall totals are to this day unrivaled. Comparing 2011 to 1955 is like comparing your average thunderstorm to an F5 tornado. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

1955 Rain Totals

Barkhamsted – 25.06″

  • Connie – 9.11″
  • Diane – 15.95″

Burlington – 24.65″

  • Connie – 8.73″
  • Diane – 15.92″

Norfolk – 21.81″

  • Connie – 8.93″
  • Diane – 12.88″

Warren – 18.60″

  • Connie – 7.74″
  • Diane – 10.86″

Windsor Locks – 18.42″

  • Connie – 4.02″
  • Diane – 14.40″

Falls Village – 16.83″

  • Connie – 6.75″
  • Diane – 10.08″

Danbury – 14.83″

  • Connie – 8.74″
  • Diane – 6.09″

Hartford – 11.75″

  • Connie – 3.90″
  • Diane – 7.85″

Prospect – 10.96″

  • Connie – 3.41″
  • Diane – 7.55″

Middletown – 10.90″

  • Connie – 4.53″
  • Diane – 6.37″

Bridgeport – 8.34″

  • Connie – 5.32″
  • Diane – 3.02″
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