Friday, 14 September 2018 05:04

History of Hurricane Hits (e.g., Hazel, Hugo, etc.) Holds Harrowing Harbinger of Hazards

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Hurricane Florence Hurricane Florence Photo courtesy of CNN Press Release

HAMLET – With the imminent approach of Hurricane Florence commanding our attention, perhaps a brief review of some of the most memorable storms to affect our area is in order.

Although historical records of hurricane hits along the coast of the Carolinas cannot be deemed to be complete (official denotations have been kept only since 1851), meteorologists and amateur weather-watchers have attempted to document such events for hundreds of years.

According to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller, only seven “major” hurricanes have actually hit our immediate coast between Savannah and Cape Hatteras in the past 140 years.  This surprisingly low number must be offset by the sheer amount of damage and loss of life incurred in conjunction with these monster storms.

A “major” hurricane is defined as a category 3 or greater with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.  The following storms satisfy that criterion and have come ashore along the coast of the Carolinas in the past 140 years:

1996    9/5       Fran     Category 3      120 mph          Wilmington, NC         26 dead (14 in NC)

1989    9/22     Hugo   Category 4      135 mph          Charleston, SC            50 dead (21 in US)

1959    9/29     Gracie  Category 4      130 mph          Beaufort, SC               24 dead

1954    10/15   Hazel   Category 4      135 mph          Calabash, NC              95 dead

1899    Unnamed        Category 3      120 mph          Outer Banks, NC        3000 (Puerto Rico)

1893    Unnamed        Category 3      Unknown        Charleston, SC            1500 dead (in area)

1879    Unnamed        Category 3      115 mph          Morehead City            46 dead

The most powerful of these seven was Hugo.  Making a direct hit on Charleston, South Carolina on September 22 of 1989, Hugo brought winds as strong as 135 mph straight into the SC coast and far enough inland to wreak havoc in Charlotte, NC and well beyond.  Hugo was sufficiently devastating as to have its name retired from any further application.  Hazel of 1954 and Fran of 1996 also hold this distinction of having had their names retired.

The other “big name” in the lore of Carolina hurricanes is that of “Hazel” in 1954.  Hitting the Calabash/Little River area on October 15, this particular storm was hailed at the time as the most destructive storm of the century.

NOTE:  Of recent memory, of course, is Matthew of October 8, 2016.  Although officially listed as “only” a category 2 at the time of coming ashore north of Wilmington, Matthew effectively stalled over the eastern section of NC and proceeded to dump a sufficient amount of rain so as to flood much of the southeastern area of the state. 

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