Home History The Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 was New Jersey and New York City’s first big storm.

The Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 was New Jersey and New York City’s first big storm.

by Tatiana Sandlewood
vagabond hurricane new jersey 1903

“The storm reached the city shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning and the high winds prevailed for about two and one half to three hours.”

          The New York Times, September 17th, 1903.          

In the early morning hours of September 16, 1903, it appeared to come out of nowhere and slam without any prior notice directly into the New Jersey coastline just north of Atlantic City. A tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and pouring rain has been wreaking havoc on the Jersey Shore, which is located more than 1,000 miles north of the location where storms like this one are expected to occur.

The Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 was New Jersey and New York City's first big storm.
Vagabond Hurricane, 1903View of destroyed structures following the 1903 New Jersey Hurricane (also known as the Vagabond Hurricane), Sea Bright, New Jersey, September 16, 1903. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** By Sept. 17, the Vagabond Hurricane weakened as it moved over Pennsylvania and New York. The hurricane killed around 35 people as it left millions worth in damage, particularly near the coastline. Dozens of buildings were completely destroyed, like this home in Sea Bright, New Jersey on Sept. 16, 1903.

The hurricane, which at the time was simply known as Hurricane Number 4 of 1903 in an era before weather events were given proper names because proper names had not yet been established, was so unexpected, and the damage that it caused to the Garden State was so unprecedented, that the leading newspaper in Atlantic City at the time, The Atlantic City Press, dubbed it “The Vagabond Hurricane” because it seemed to have mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, destroyed everything in its path, and then left just as quickly as it had come.

Even the National Weather Bureau referred to the 1903 Vagabond Hurricane and the effects it had on the northeastern United States as “a truly unique tempest.” The hurricane had a devastating impact on the region. The Hurricane of September 1903 reached a Category 2 status with sustained winds of up to 100 miles per hour along the Jersey Shore.

It was the first hurricane to strike the New York metropolitan area since 1851, when records first began to be kept, and it was also the first hurricane to reach Category 2 status. In the roughly 175 years that records have been kept, hurricane-force winds have only been seen four other times along the Jersey Shore.One of those other instances was the Vagabond Hurricane that struck in 1903.

The Course Taken by the Vagabond Hurricane

In point of fact, the storm that the media later called the “Vagabond Hurricane” did not materialize out of thin air like some sort of magical apparition. The hurricane that made landfall in Ocean City, New Jersey, on September 16, 1903, was first spotted by meteorologists from the National Weather Bureau as a tropical cyclone off the coast of Antigua on September 12, of that same year.

The hurricane that made landfall in Ocean City, New Jersey, on September 16, 1903, was named “Ocean City.” As the hurricane moved up the eastern seaboard of the United States, a large flock of nearly one hundred birds that had been flying off the coast of Hampton, Virginia, on September 15, 1903, crashed to the ground and landed on a sandy spot that juts out into the ocean and is called Old Point Comfort.

The birds were found dead and their feathers had been stripped off as a result of the hurricane force winds. It was difficult for anyone to predict where the Vagabond Hurricane was going given the state of weather forecasting at the time, which was neither exact nor even semi-precise, plus the fact that satellite imaging had not become available for more than fifty years.

As things stood, fewer than ten percent of the people living along the Jersey Shore, which extends all the way from the southernmost tip of Cape May to Asbury Park, would leave their houses in advance of the hurricane’s impact on September 16, 1903.

Before everything was said and done, the storm would get more powerful and proceed fast along the eastern seaboard, ultimately taking the lives of 57 people who lived in the state of New Jersey.

In an article titled “The Storm Was Ocean Born,” published on September 17, 1903 by the New York Times, the following was stated: “The storm came in from the sea, pounding the New Jersey coast and passing over New York City on its path northward.”

The following is an excerpt from a story that was published in The New York Times: “This was not a conventional storm; rather, it was a marine storm. It arrived over the New Jersey shore somewhere near Atlantic City and raced inland in a northerly direction with extraordinary speed.”

The Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 was New Jersey and New York City's first big storm.
Press of Atlantic City

The 1903 hurricane brought severe flooding to the state of New Jersey.

As a direct consequence of the Vagabond Hurricane, Philadelphia and New York City were unable to have any kind of conversation with one another for several days. As a result of a breakdown in communication between major population centers in the northeastern United States, false tales began to spread that villages along the Jersey Shore had been leveled to the ground and utterly wiped off.

Many people believed that the coastline of New Jersey had become a bleak and uninhabitable wasteland as a result of the devastating Vagabond Hurricane of 1903. According to an article published in The Times, it was speculated that “the big resort (Atlantic City) had been utterly wiped away.

” Although the unexpected Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 did not entirely wipe out Atlantic City and the other cities along the Jersey Shore, this does not mean that they were spared. In Atlantic City alone, the hurricane was responsible for more than $1 million in damage (expressed in terms of U.S. dollars in 1903), which is the modern-day equivalent of nearly $500,000,000.

As a result of the storm, the roofs of six different hotels were totally ripped off at Asbury Park, and the storm dropped so many tons of debris along the New Jersey shoreline that numerous beaches had to be closed to the public for more than a year.

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Strong winds and drenching rains destroyed nearly seventy-five percent of the state of New Jersey’s agricultural crops. This occurred during a time when the Garden State was one of the leading producers in the United States of tomatoes, cranberries, celery, apples, and even corn. The devastation occurred throughout the state in Burlington, Salem, Monmouth, Middlesex, Sussex, Warren, Morris, and Bergen Counties.

At a time when there was not yet widespread usage of refrigeration and freezing, the agricultural destruction caused by the Vagabond Hurricane led food prices in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, District of Columbia to skyrocket.

After the Vagabond Hurricane, the next storm to produce significant economic devastation in the metropolitan region of New York City would not strike for another 109 years, when Superstorm Sandy would make landfall in late October 2012 near the exact same site as the Vagabond Hurricane.

On September 16, 1903, there was a total rainfall of two and a half inches at Central Park, which occurred between the hours of eight in the morning and eight in the evening.

1903 saw widespread destruction along the Jersey Shore.

The winds in New York City reached speeds of over 70 miles per hour, making them the highest winds that had been recorded in the Big Apple since the blizzard that occurred in 1888, which was almost twenty-five years earlier.

As a result of the tropical storm-force winds generated in New York City by the passage of the Vagabond Hurricane, the city’s tallest buildings are believed to have swung from side to side, and carts are supposed to have totally flipped over as they attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

During the Hurricane of 1903, city officials determined that it was too dangerous for residents to be outdoors due to the risk of injury from flying debris, particularly street signs, which were ripped from sidewalks by the dozens all across the city.

As a result, the New York Stock Exchange and almost all commercial businesses in New York City were closed for an entire day. This included almost all commercial businesses in New York City. ore than a hundred boats were destroyed while they rested at their moorings in Jamaica Bay, which is located in the borough of Queens, New York, as a strong wind blew through the area.

On September 16, 1903, while President Theodore Roosevelt and his family were on vacation aboard the United States naval yacht Sylph off the shore of Long Island, they were involved in a collision with another vessel known as the Vagabond Hurricane. The presidential boat was being buffeted by sheets of pouring rain as it was being rocked from side to side by powerful gusts and huge waves.

The White House personnel and security guards came to the conclusion that the President’s life would be in grave danger if he continued to remain aboard the yacht while it was out at sea. As a result, they immediately headed for land and arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard without incident, despite the fact that both President Roosevelt and the First Lady reported seeing many boats capsize as a result of the high waves.

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Communication between Philadelphia and New York City was eventually re-established, albeit gradually. Despite the fact that Atlantic City and other towns along the Jersey Shore sustained significant damage as a result of the Vagabond Hurricane, the New Jersey shoreline was able to recover from the storm and went on to become an even more popular tourist destination than it had ever been before.

After the hurricane passed, The New York Times would write, “Yesterday’s big storm caused more damage than any other storm in recent memory.”

The Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 was New Jersey and New York City's first big storm.
Wikidata

The September 17, 1903 edition of the New York Times

Surprisingly, however, the Vagabond Hurricane of 1903 would be largely forgotten within a decade as the northeastern United States moved forward into the 20th century.

This could be because it appeared out of nowhere and moved through at such a stunning speed, or it could be simply because the hardy residents of New Jersey and New York City simply picked up the pieces left behind in the wake of the storm and rebuilt without ever looking back.

Over one hundred years would pass before the residents of New York and New Jersey would have their mettle and perseverance tested by an equally devastating storm, this time in the form of Hurricane Sandy. And, just like in 1903, those affected by the storm would pick up the pieces and rebuild without looking back in 2012.

Source : Wikipedia | Wikidata

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