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National Weather Service boss coming home to talk hurricanes

Louis Uccellini, a Bethpage native and director of the National Weather Service, will deliver the keynote address Oct. 3 at a Hofstra University hurricane symposium.

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service,

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, will be the keynote speaker at a hurricane symposium at Hofstra. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Countless Long Island children in earlier years heard family tales of the day back in 1938 that the Long Island Express hit. The Category 3 hurricane slammed into Suffolk County on Sept. 21 — with no warning.

One of those kids was Louis Uccellini, whose mother recalled thinking that “if it’s this bad in Farmingdale, she could not imagine how bad it was out east,” with eastern Suffolk County bearing the brunt. The family subsequently couldn’t drive across the Shinnecock Canal, he said, without a reminder from his father that  it was that storm that carved out the nearby Shinnecock Inlet on Fire Island.

Having since learned a thing or two about tropical storms, Uccellini, a Long Island native and director of the National Weather Service, will deliver the keynote address Oct. 3 at a Hofstra University symposium focusing on Long Island and its hurricanes, with a special nod to the Express.

That storm’s 80th anniversary nearly crossed paths with Hurricane Florence, a system that forecasters tagged as eyeballing the southeast coast a good five days in advance, giving symposium attendees any number of then-and-now points to discuss regarding forecasting and warning.

Indeed, “the contrast is pretty stark,” said Uccellini, who grew up in Bethpage.

The hope for Hofstra’s daylong event is for attendees to walk away with “a greater appreciation for the meteorological history of Long Island,” and that, while hurricanes may be less frequent here than to the south, the Island is still vulnerable, said Jase Bernhardt, symposium director and assistant professor in the school’s geology, environment and sustainability department.

Educators, students, weather and emergency management professionals and community members with a special interest are invited to register at hofstra.edu/community/culctr/culctr_li_hurricane_papers.html.

Sessions also will address where we are today in forecasting and communicating risk, with Nelson Vaz and David Wally from the weather service’s Upton office among the speakers. Attention then turns to the future, with a look at how residents and communities can keep such extreme weather events top of mind in regard to, say, living in flood zones and developing the coast line.

Considerable progress was made in forecasting skill in the wake of the Long Island Express. Uccellini points to the arrival of tools such as radar, computer models and satellites, which serve as a foundation for today’s ever increasing accuracy in hurricane prediction.

Much has been written about the Express, which quickly moved on to devastate areas of New England, giving rise to another name for it.

Speaking on the symposium’s history panel will be Lourdes B. Avilés, author of “Taken by Storm, 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane.”

A professor of meteorology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, she said that even after years of researching the Express, “I cannot even imagine having lived through that — just having to react on the spot to survive.”

For those who did, there may be some consolation, she said, in knowing that, if their children and grandchildren ever face such a storm, “they will know something is coming.”

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