During the course of the 2005 season, I sat down and wrote an article on Hurricane Gloria, which came ashore on Long Island some twenty years earlier in September, 1985. After I posted that article, I did receive some feedback from those who recalled the storm. Among the responses I got was from a viewer, who inquired about Hurricane Belle, or Bicentennial Belle as it was called at the time.
I can remember giving that person a response that said in essence that Belle wasn't going to get an honor comparable to Gloria on this site because it didn't measure up as a storm. However, during the course of this summer, I began to think about certain topics that I wanted to write about for articles, and I realized that this summer would be the thirtieth anniversary of Hurricane Belle. So recently, I tried to recall some memories of Belle, and looked it up in my storm database, and was quite surprised by what I found..
The tropics in the year 1976 was actually average by climatological standards. There were a total of ten named storms including a subtropical system, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes that season. What was one of those major hurricanes? To my astonishment, it was Hurricane Belle, the second named storm that season. Yes, Belle, which limped over Long Island as a Tropical Storm.
Belle's life-span was another thing that amazed me. The storm only lasted for five days from its origin near the Bahamas on August 6th to August 10th. The storm had been a tropical wave that departed from the coast of Africa on or about July 28th. Caught up in a very strong easterly flow, the disturbance moved across the Atlantic, and by July 31st, it had reached the vicinity of the Bahamas. There it stalled, and actually did a loop as steering currents over the storm broke down.
Belle eventually made up its mind where to go after becoming a storm, and intensified to a hurricane. The storm was a major hurricane for only about a period of 12 to 18 hours, but it did have maximum sustained winds in excess of 120 mph when it was east of Florida. Belle actually made only one landfall, and that was over Long Island in New York. By that time, it had weakened to a tropical storm with only 65 mph winds. According to Wikipedia, the storm parallel the coast at a distance of just about 100 miles offshore. Hurricane Warnings had been posted from Georgia all the way up to Maine.
The minimum central pressure recorded at its peak intensity was 957 mb, or 28.26 inches of Hg. Located near the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Belle began to weaken once it moved into the more temperate and cooler waters of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Hurricane Belle had a track along the East Coast that was quite similar to another storm being commemorated this year by Hurricaneville, and that was Hurricane Bob of 1991. The only difference was that Bob moved east of Long Island, and made a direct hit on Southeastern Massachusetts.
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Ironically, Hurricane Bob also surprised me by also ending up with a peak intensity of Category Three strength. My recollection of Bob is much better than Belle since I was much older when Bob came up the East Coast in 1991. I was only six years old at the time of Hurricane Belle, but I do remember one time during the summer that year when the family discussed the possibility of a hurricane. The hurricane was Belle.
Not knowing exactly what a hurricane was at the time, I could only use the concern that my family had at the time as a personal barometer. So, I became scared. Another thing that I always remember about my neighborhood at that time was how all the cars that were parked at the end of the street, moved up toward our part of the street. The street was a dead end since a swamp was at the end of it. Sometimes back in those days, creeks in the swamp would overflow and spill over, causing flooding to the houses nearby. When the rains came, flood waters crept up the street to our neighbor's driveway.
Back in 1976, we were celebrating the country's bicentennial with the parade of ships that were in New York Harbor. That year, the New York Yankees had returned to the World Series for the first time in a dozen years after Chris Chambliss hit a lead off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding Game 5 off Kansas City Royals reliever Mark Littell to win the 1976 American League Championship Series.
Also, that year, we elected a new president. Jimmy Carter, previously the Governor of Georgia, defeated incumbent President Gerald Ford, who took over after Richard Nixon resigned. The infamous Son of Sam shootings began its deadly one year trail of terror and fear throughout New York City. The movie JAWS debuted in theatres, and it was another reason to avoid the beach that summer.
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Like most hurricanes that come up the Eastern Seaboard, Belle moved with tremendous speed. At one point while paralleling the coastline, Hurricane Belle was moving at a rate of 30 mph. Because of the fast movement, Belle did not cause much damage. Although areas to the east of the center of circulation, in the notorious Northeast quadrant experienced hurricane force winds, many areas only seen gusts between 35 and 45 mph.
Belle did produce a lot of rain though. As much as four to five inches of rainfall was produced by the storm in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. In the end, the storm was responsible for five deaths and approximately $100 million dollars in damage at the time. Although Belle's name was never retired from the list of storm names it was never reused largely because a new format of names were introduced in 1979 when a list of alternating boy and girl names were used to christen storms.
Much to the relief of coastal residents along the East Coast, Belle was somewhat of a disappointment. Compared to the Long Island Express of 1938, the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, Hurricane Carol, Hurricane Donna, Hurricane Gloria, and Hurricane Bob, this storm didn't measure up although there weren't many that could measure up to the 1938 hurricane, which is only matched by the Great Hurricane of 1815. Nevertheless, Belle proved that a tropical storm or hurricane can impact the Northeastern United States, and bring plenty of problems to the region.
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