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New England 'way overdue' for major hurricane, but are we prepared?

New England 'way overdue' for major hurricane, but are we prepared?
New England 'way overdue' for major hurricane, but are we prepared? 04:24

BOSTON – Hurricane Bob is etched in the history books for southern New England. Although it struck nearly 31 years ago, it still remains vivid in the minds of many, like Wareham resident Doreen Phillips.

Phillips still has a yellowed newspaper detailing the days after Bob's destruction.

"I remember in the school yard, the playground, they had piles of boats. Boats that were just unclaimed. My house saw the surge mostly. Six inches in the house then in and out. Just enough to cause havoc," Phillips said.

Joe Dellicarpini, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norton, says we're in the midst of a remarkable hurricane drought for our area.

"A lot of people have been lulled into a false sense of security. Most people that live here now have not experienced a landfalling hurricane," he said.

Dellicarpini added what keeps him up at night is the possibility of a landfalling hurricane.

"We have nor'easters all the time in the winter. People are acclimated as what to do. The hurricane, it's been over 30 years," Dellicarpini said.

Historically speaking, southern New England averages a hurricane landfall once every 12 years or so. Major hurricanes hit once every 60 years. We have to look back to 1954's Hurricane Carol for the last major hurricane for us.

"We are way overdue," says Dellicarpini. "That's a major hurricane category 3 or higher. To me, that would be devastating. That's a scary thing to think about."

The National Weather Service prepares each and every spring like it could be the year for the next big one. That includes bringing new data to communities where storm surge is a concern.

Andy Nash is the meteorologist in charge at NWS Norton. He gave WBZ-TV a first-hand look at some of these tools.

"These models take all of these hurricane tracks, intensity, everything about a hurricane and has thousands of hurricanes hit a coastline. With each of these models, you figure out the potential surge," said Nash.

Figuring out that potential surge is very important. Nearly half of all hurricane deaths are from storm surge flooding.

Nash said that all the bays and inlets of our southern coastline make it especially vulnerable to flooding.

"It's a big funnel," he said.

With our changing climate, it's priming coastal communities like Wareham up for a disaster. Even on sunny days, when the tides are astronomically high, some spots in town could see some inundation. A category 1 storm could bring six-plus feet of storm surge. A major hurricane, category 3 or higher, would be devastating with 10-to-20 feet of water in town.

Patrick MacDonald, Wareham's Emergency Management Director, said when the wind and tide line up perfectly, the town sees water splashing into people's homes.

"Anything that deals with a [major hurricane] scenario would be devastating," he said, adding that the town is as prepared as you can be.

Governor Maura Healey echoed that sentiment.

"On our state side, it is our responsibility to take steps to make sure we're prepared," she told WBZ-TV.

Still, as Doreen Phillips says, there is only so much we can do.

The newspaper she held said, "You do what you can, and then you're in the hands of God."

"How can you stop that?" she said.

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