The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. (David DilPoio, News Journal file)

RI - How the Fox Point hurricane barrier in Providence works during storms

PROVIDENCE – If Hurricane Lee starts heading towards Rhode Island, the crew at the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier is prepared.

Staff with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be on-site tracking the path of the storm well ahead of a wind-driven surge or an unusually high tide that could warrant closing the barrier that protects downtown Providence from flooding.  

“USACE is closely monitoring the forecast and will be prepared to operate the barrier if conditions warrant a closure,” said John MacPherson, Cape Cod Canal manager for the Corps who is also responsible for the Fox Point barrier.

With the storm shifting west on Wednesday, the National Weather Service warned of an “increasing risk of wind, coastal flooding and rain impacts from Lee in portions of New England.” The storm, which was rated a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, was expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to southern New England as early as Friday night.  

Has the hurricane barrier closed recently?

If the Army Corps closes the hurricane barrier, it will be the first time this year. The barrier was closed three times last year.

The structure was built as a hurricane defense, but in recent years it’s also been used to seal off the 280 acres behind its gates during king or moon tides when waters in the Providence River are projected to be much higher than normal. As seas have risen, those tides are reaching higher and have been known to flood the area around Waterplace Park.

When was the hurricane barrier built, and when was it used?

TO HIGHER GROUND: Marooned women and children are carried and pulled to safety in waterlogged skiff at Misquamicut. 9 / 1 / 1954. Journal files.The Providence Journal

The decision to build the barrier was made in the wake of Hurricane Carol in 1954, which sent a wall of water through Providence. It was the second time in 16 years that a storm surge had flooded the city, following the Hurricane of 1938.  

Since its dedication in 1966, the barrier has been called on to protect the city from a storm surge only a few times. The most notable in recent years was during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 when the surge in Narragansett Bay reached 7.6 feet above mean sea level.  

Read more.