Natural Disasters in Connecticut

by Rebecca Furer for Teach It


Historical Background

Natural disasters and extreme weather have been part of life in Connecticut throughout history, just as they are today. This exploration starts with 1816, known as “the year without a summer,” when volcanic ash from Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa combined with increased sunspot activity to cause extreme fluctuations in temperature throughout the summer and create an agricultural disaster in New England. In 1878, a tornado struck Wallingford. Then, in 1888, the blizzard later known as the “Great White Hurricane,” brought high winds, frigid temperatures, and more than four feet of snow to some towns and caused hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars in damage along the East Coast. The Flood of 1936, which devastated Hartford and other towns along the Connecticut River; the Hurricane of 1938, which slammed the Connecticut shoreline; and the Flood of 1955, brought on by the combined impact of Hurricanes Connie and Diane, show the incredible power of water. The 1979 tornado that struck Windsor, Windsor Locks, and Suffield, Connecticut, rounds out the exploration. For more information on these events and others, see the list of videos and articles in the “Additional Resources” section below.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

What role does climate play in people’s lives?


  • What are some examples of natural disasters or extreme weather?
  • Which of these affect Connecticut, versus other regions of the country or parts of the world?
  • What actions can people take to protect themselves or others before or during a natural disaster?
  • What actions can people take to help others after a natural disaster occurs?
  • How have natural disasters and extreme weather affected the lives of people in Connecticut over time?


Choose one or more of the following sources to use in this activity:


In this activity students look at primary sources related to a number of natural disasters and extreme weather events, practice primary source analysis, and discuss questions about how climate affects people’s lives.

  1. Introduce the compelling question and have students generate some supporting questions. You may wish to introduce some of the suggested supporting questions as well.
  2. Select one of the sources provided in the toolkit to model the inquiry activity with students.
  3. Use the Library of Congress’s Primary Source Analysis process (download Teacher’s Guide) or another strategy of your choice to explore the sample source together as a group. Ask students to first OBSERVE/LOOK, then REFLECT/THINK, and finally QUESTION/WONDER.
  4. Have students work individually, in small groups, or as a class to explore some of the other resources in the toolkit. Select as many or as few as you wish and decide whether you want all of the students to look at the same images/articles or different ones. Have students share their findings, reflections, and questions with their classmates.
  5. At the end of each session, revisit the supporting and compelling questions, as well as additional questions that the class has developed together.


  • Students will practice oral history skills by writing a series of questions and interviewing a parent, grandparent, or other older relative or family friend about a natural disaster they remember from before the student was born. Students can record the responses digitally or in writing and then share with classmates.
  • Students will connect with their science curriculum by keeping a weather log and tracking data using tables and/or graphs.
  • Students will research a natural disaster that has affected Connecticut and create a fake newscast presenting information about the event and its effects. If students have conducted oral history interviews with older family members or friends, they may incorporate some of those recollections.
  • Students will create posters or videos to inform other people in the community about emergency preparedness.


Place to GO

Take your students for a walk on the school grounds or in the neighborhood, if you are able. Discuss what kinds of natural disasters could [realistically] have an impact in this area and what that might look like, then talk about what students and their families could do to prepare for natural disasters or help others afterwards.

Things To DO

Watch clips from Connecticut Public Television’s original documentary, When Disaster Struck Connecticut:

When Disaster Struck: The Flood of 1936
Part 1 (8:52)
Part 2 (7:43)

When Disaster Struck: King Blizzard (9:34)

When Disaster Struck: The 1938 Hurricane
Part 1 (5:27)
Part 2 (8:26)
Part 3 (9:27)

When Disaster Struck Connecticut: The Flood of 1955 (7:53)

Websites to VISIT

Red Cross Preparedness Programs, including information about the Pillowcase Project for grades 3-5.


Articles to READ