Many eye witness accounts describe the 1938 storm tide as if it were a tidal wave. The deadly effects of storm surge and storm tide are key to understanding why 1938 hurricane wreaked so much damage.
Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the average water level 15 feet or more.
In addition, wind driven waves are superimposed on the storm tide. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm tide coincides with the normal high tides. In 1938 the hurricane hit at high tide, hence the severe damage sustained by buildings along the beaches. The storm tide at Westport reached a height of 14 feet. The majority of the 600 people who perished in New England were caught in the storm tide.