by Rebecca Furer for Teach It
Climate, Environment, Geography, Natural Disasters
Environment and Climate, Human-Environment Interaction, Influence of Geography on the Social, Political, and Economic Development of CT Towns and the State
Cornwall, Fairfield, Hartford, Lyme, Mystic, Niantic, Statewide, Suffield, Wallingford, Waterbury, Windsor
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
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- 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?
D2: TOOL KIT
Choose one or more of the following sources to use in this activity:
Wallingford tornado [View of a collapsed house.] Stereoscope view, 1878. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.
Blizzard of 1888: snow removal on Jewell Street, Hartford. Connecticut Historical Society.
Boys on snow bank after the great blizzard, Bank Street, Waterbury, March 12-13, 1888. Connecticut Historical Society.
“Cornwall Bridge.” Connecticut Western News. March 21, 1888. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
Flood of 1936: interior of Connecticut State Armory, Hartford. Connecticut Historical Society.
Thursday March 19, 1 P.M., 1936 Flood. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.
Hurricane of 1938: people in rowboat on Windsor Street, Hartford, September 23, 1938. Connecticut Historical Society.
Hurricane of 1938: men piling sandbags, Colt dike, Hartford, September 22, 1938. Connecticut Historical Society.
View of destroyed homes along the coast in Lyme, Connecticut, after the Hurricane of 1938. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, Southern New England Telephone (SNET) Collection.
View of workers repairing railroad tracks damaged by the Hurricane of 1938 in the Niantic area of East Lyme, Connecticut. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, Charles B. Gunn Collection.
Colonial Village neighborhood of Poquonock after the 1979 tornado. Windsor Historical Society, gift of Thomas Dembkoski.
D3: INQUIRY 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.
- Introduce the compelling question and have students generate some supporting questions. You may wish to introduce some of the suggested supporting questions as well.
- Select one of the sources provided in the toolkit to model the inquiry activity with students.
- 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.
- 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.
- At the end of each session, revisit the supporting and compelling questions, as well as additional questions that the class has developed together.
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- 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)
Websites to VISIT
Red Cross Preparedness Programs, including information about the Pillowcase Project for grades 3-5.
Articles to READ
- “Frozen Reservoir Destroys Danbury”
- “The Hurricane of 1938 Rocks Connecticut” by Herbert F. Janick
- “Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death: 1816, The Year Without a Summer” by Shirley T. Wajda
- “Blizzard of 1888 Devastates State” by Jeannine Henderson-Shifflett
- “Blizzard of ’88 Shuts Greenwich Off from Outside World” by Karen Frederick and Anne Young
- “The Surprising Prevalence of Earthquake Activity in Connecticut”
- “Hurricanes Connie & Diane Deliver Double Hit”
- “The Great Wallingford Tornado”
“Remembering the Tornado of 1979” by Sue Banks, May 26, 1998. Windsor Historical Society.