|Category 3 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||August 6, 1976|
|Dissipated||August 10, 1976|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 120 mph (195 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||957 mbar (hPa); 28.26 inHg|
|Fatalities||5 direct, 5 indirect|
|Damage||$100 million (1976 USD)|
|Areas affected||North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts|
|Part of the 1976 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Belle was a tropical cyclone that brought widespread rainfall throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. The third tropical storm and first hurricane of the 1976 Atlantic hurricane season, Belle formed as a tropical depression northeast of the Bahamas and strengthened as it moved northward towards New York and New England. Belle became a major hurricane that threatened much of the East Coast of the United States. However, the storm weakened prior to landfall and struck Long Island, New York, as a Category 1 hurricane, spreading moderate to heavy rainfall from eastern North Carolina through New England. The system evolved into an extratropical cyclone as it passed through New England. Belle caused $100 million (1976 US dollars) in damage.
On July 28, a tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa. It moved quickly across the Atlantic Ocean at speeds up to 23 mph (37 km/h), and slowly organized with a large area of convection with a possible low level circulation as early as July 31. The convection became detached from the wave, and moved northwestward to a position near the Bahamas. As it remained stationary, it developed a circulation and became a tropical depression on August 6. Under weak steering currents, it looped, and was upgraded to Tropical Storm Belle early on August 7.
Belle drifted to the west-northwest, and attained hurricane status late on August 7. On the 8th, the storm turned to the north, where conditions favored additional strengthening. Late on the 8th, Belle reached major hurricane status, and early on the 9th, it peaked at 120 mph (190 km/h) while east of Florida. During this time, Hurricane Warnings were posted from Georgia to eventually Maine.
Belle accelerated to the north-northeast and paralleled the United States coastline. After peaking on August 9, the hurricane weakened, possibly due to cooler waters off the North Carolina coast. It continued to parallel the coastline, remaining within 100 miles (160 km) off the coast. Just after midnight on August 10, Belle made landfall on the South Shore of Long Island, NY, near Jones Beach, as a Category-1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph (120 km/h) and a central pressure of 980 mb. It rapidly weakened over land, and became extratropical later that day over New England.
Due to the proximity of Belle and the east coast of the United States, Hurricane Watches were issued for areas between Georgia and Maine at some point during the storm's existence. Officials advised residents near the coastline to evacuate to safer areas further inland. At least 40,000 non-residents evacuated on August 8 from North Carolina beaches to escape the storm. An estimated 6,200 residents evacuated to Red Cross shelters as Belle threatened North Carolina.
With Hurricane Belle expected to produce a storm surge rivaling that of Hurricane Donna in 1960, officials in New York immediately began preparations. Police officers handed out sandbags to residents in low-lying areas and National Guard armories and some public schools were used as evacuation centers. An estimated 11,000 residents took shelter in these places during the storm. Numerous flights in and out of New York were cancelled, Wall Street was closed and the United Nations postponed a meeting. An estimated 30,000 and 250,000 people evacuated from New York and New Jersey respectively. Summer tourist evacuated from most beaches but many residents decided to stay. In Connecticut, 52 helicopters and 100 pilots were placed on standby for possible relief missions following the storm. The Red Cross reported that about 2,300 people evacuated Cape Cod and thousands of tourists left the area.
Five people were killed in North Carolina when a car and truck collided on a rain-slicked highway near the Virginia border. The outer bands of Belle produced heavy rain, amounting to 4 in (100 mm) in places, and winds gusting up to 40 mph (65 km/h) over eastern Pennsylvania as it neared landfall in New York. Although on the weaker side of the storm, gusty winds knocked down numerous power lines in New Jersey, leaving dozens of communities in the dark and setting off 75 fire alarms, one of which was a relatively large fire forcing the evacuation of a nursing home. The highest wind gusts in the state were estimated at 90 mph (150 km/h) and rainfall peaked at 3.93 in (98.82 mm).
Gusts were near hurricane force winds in some locations, though winds were fairly light in most locations from 35 to 45 mph (72 km/h). The high winds knocked down trees and power lines which left tens of thousands without power in Long Island and 40,000 more in Connecticut. Storm surge varied from 3 ft (0.91 m) to 4½ ft. above normal. Belle produced heavy rains in Massachusetts, peaking at 4.18 in (106.17 mm) with winds gusting up to 54 mph (87 km/h).
The greatest effect from Belle was its rainfall. Four to five inches (127 mm) of rain was seen throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic region. One person was killed when a branch snapped off a tree due to high winds and fell on her. There was considerable small stream flooding, as well as moderate crop damage. The crop damage, combined with widespread property damage, resulted in a total loss of $100 million (1976 USD, $342 million 2005 USD).
- Miles B. Lawrence (April 1977). "Monthly Weather Review for 1976" (PDF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
- United Press International (August 9, 1976). "Belle Aims for Outer Banks". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
- United Press International (August 9, 1976). "Hurricane Belle skirts North Carolina Coast". The Bryan Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
- Associated Press (August 10, 1976). "Hurricane Belle at Long Island Beach". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
- John Moody (August 10, 1976). "Hurricane Belle Rakes Long Island, then Loses Force". The Bryan Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
- David M. Roth (2009). "Hurricane Belle – August 7–11, 1976". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved August 23, 2009.