For students of Maryland weather history, the hurricane of August 1933 ranks as one of the greatest meteorological calamities ever to visit the state. In those days, hurricanes were not named; that practice started in the 1950s. Rain began falling Sunday, Aug. 20, with Ocean City receiving 6 inches in 24 hours, and, by Tuesday, The Sun reported that "a tropical disturbance of great intensity was gathering near Bermuda." The local weather prediction, however, was for "decreasing rain and increasing wind with probable sunshine for tomorrow."
On Wednesday, Marylanders awoke to read a new forecast that predicted: "Rain today and possibly tomorrow; not much change in temperature. The Atlantic Coast disturbance is central about 150 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, attended by dangerous shifting gales. Northeast storm warnings remain displayed in the Chesapeake Bay."
If the storm seemed only a distant possibility to Baltimoreans, it was a different matter for vacationers in Ocean City.
Swept down street
"An angry sea which beat with a thunderous roar against the boardwalk all day, caught three Baltimore vacationists by surprise and washed them 100 feet down a side street. Mrs. Carl F. Strohmeyer and Mr. and Mrs. Edward McCall, all of Catonsville, were swept down Eighth Street after a wave crashed over the boardwalk," said The Sun.
More than 3 1/2 inches of rain had fallen since Sunday on the lower Delmarva Peninsula, causing flooding as well as washing out dams and disrupting highway and rail travel.
An evacuation started over the two-lane bridge across Sinepuxent Bay that connected Ocean City with the mainland.
Water poured into the basements of cottages and the lobbies of such venerable hostelries as the Atlantic, George Washington and the Colonial. The electricity and water supply were cut off.
"Exodus from the resort has been general," reported The Sun. "Many vacationists in their desire to get away as quickly as possible, hastened away clothed only in bathing suits, forsaking other clothing and belongings."
If they were lucky enough to make it inland, they soon discovered that all the telephone and telegraph lines were down between Ocean City and Berlin.
Salisbury cut off
Salisbury was under full siege by the storm. A short-wave radio message proclaimed the city's desperation: "We are cut off from outside aid. Please notify Baltimore."
In the next day's editions of The Sun, banner headlines said: COAST LASHED BY TWIN STORMS. RESORTS AND SHIPPING SUSTAIN HEAVY DAMAGE; MANY SECTIONS ISOLATED.
"Whipping themselves into a renewed fury, the twin forces of a West Indian hurricane and a northeaster hurled their combined forces against the Atlantic seaboard from Hatteras to New England last night, smashed many famous beach resorts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, pitched the crop and other property damage toll into untold millions and brought death to many towns and cities," said The Sun.
And now it was Baltimore's turn, where 7.58 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, a record.
"Its water front under water; communications broken with a large section of the state; rail, boat and street traffic crippled and at least two persons drowned, Baltimore was in the grip last night of the worst storm in its history," said The Sun.
The Chesapeake Steamship Co.'s City of Norfolk hadn't been heard from for more than 20 hours. (Later, the company learned that it had been stuck on a mud bank during the storm. All aboard were safe.) Light Street was described as a "veritable sea." McCormick & Co.'s plant and other nearby buildings were flooded, while lumber from nearby Fallsway and Pratt Street lumber yards floated free.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line between the city and Washington was under water. Trees were blown down all over Baltimore and "cottages at Dundalk [were] reportedly afloat."
In Washington, where the Weather Bureau said it was the worst storm to hit since 1896, the barometer plunged to 28.94, at that time the lowest recorded there.
With damage estimates in the millions and the death toll placed at 22, storm-weary Marylanders tried to regain a sense of normalcy that Friday.
The Weather Bureau cooperated by promising, "Nothing but pleasant weather in sight for the next two days."
In Ocean City, vacationers slowly returned to witness the results the storm as fire companies pumped out flooded basements.
"Hundreds of persons who Wednesday night fled from their shore properties returned yesterday to a scene of chaos.
"Persons who never owned as much as a rowboat found yachts resting almost on their front steps. Streets were filled with silt carved from the beach.
Automobiles left standing in the flood when the storm was at its worst were up to their running boards in sand," reported The Sun.
Today, Ocean City is a much different resort than it was 63 summers ago; however, one positive and lasting legacy is the inlet that was created when the waters of the Atlantic met those of the Sinepuxent.