While we await the arrival of Hurricane Irene, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the impact of past hurricanes in North Carolina. The following information is from Tropical Cyclones Affecting North Carolina Since 1586: An Historical Perspective, written by James E. Hudgins, NOAA NWS, published by the National Weather Service. I’ve included a sampling of hurricanes and tropical storms that damaged North Carolina, primarily between 1913 and 1955. Then I included information from Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Bertha and Fran (1996), simply because I remember them so well. If you are interested in more information, check out Hudgins’ 109-page report
September 3, 1913 (Category 1)
After moving from a location northeast of the Bahama Islands to off the North Carolina coast, this hurricane turned toward the west and moved inland between Hatteras and Beaufort early on
September 3rd, passed south of Raleigh that afternoon. The highest wind reported was from the southeast at 74 mi/h at Hatteras.
There was great damage to property and crops over the eastern portion of the state, especially the Pamlico Sound area, due to high water from the sound. The greatest losses were in the vicinity of Washington and New Bern, where wind-driven water was said to have risen 10 feet above previous high water marks. Large railroad bridges at Washington and New Bern were washed away. Communication lines were downed over a large area; for a time it was feared that all people on Ocracoke had perished. Crops suffered severely, with considerable wind and rain damage as far west as Durham. At Goldsboro the storm was “the worst in history”; it was very severe in Tarboro, Wilson, Farmville and Durham.
Five lives were lost; property damage was estimated at $3 million.
July 14-16, 1916 (Tropical Storm)
The known history of this hurricane is brief and its known path short; it was northeast of the Bahama Islands on July 12th, and was charted as having moved directly northwest, across the South Carolina coast on the 14th and into the North Carolina mountains on the 15th. It exhausted itself in the mountains, caused the heaviest rainfall of record.
The greatest amount recorded was at Altapass, where 22.22 inches fell in the 24-hour period ending at 2 p.m. on the 16th. This was, at the time, the greatest 24-hour amount known for the entire United States. Landslides occurred in the mountains, killing several persons; crops, highways, bridges and railroads suffered great damage. A maximum wind of 60 mi/h from the east was recorded at Charlotte on the 14th. No damage of consequence occurred on the North Carolina coast.
September 18-19, 1928 (Category 1)
Although this severe hurricane caused much destruction and more than 1,800 fatalities as it moved north through Florida, it lost much of its wind force as it passed through coastal Georgia and South Carolina and into eastern North Carolina. However, it caused very heavy rains in North Carolina. Resulting floods were severe and the highest on record on at least parts of the Cape Fear River. At Fayetteville, where the bankfull stage was 35 feet, the river reached a height of 64.7 feet; at Elizabethtown, the river rose to 41.3 feet compared to a bankfull stage of 20 feet. Flooding at Lumberton was “the worst in history.” Many highways were closed due to flooding and washouts of roads and bridges.
October 1-2, 1929 (Category 1)
Following a prolonged and erratic journey which included slow westward movement through the Bahamas and the Florida Straits, this hurricane turned northeast and struck land near Panama City, Florida, late on September 30th, from which point it recurved toward the northeast. As was the case in the previous year, the storm weakened greatly in wind force as it moved inland, came into North Carolina from the southwest, caused very heavy rains and severe floods. Stages on the Cape Fear River were almost as high as the record set the previous year. At Fayetteville, the river rose 41 feet in a 24-hour period. Rainfall was “record breaking” and caused thousands of dollars damage to roads, crops and businesses. North Carolina “floundered in flood.”
August 22-23, 1933 (Category 2)
This hurricane originated well to the east of the Windward Islands, and after a long journey over the Atlantic Ocean it crossed the North Carolina coast moving from the southeast. The center passed almost directly over Cape Hatteras, where the maximum wind velocity was 64 mi/h. There was “great damage” in northeast North Carolina, due to “severe gales and high tides, largely the latter.” Many localities were swept by the “worst gale in years.” Tides rose several feet above normal in Norfolk, Virginia. There was considerable crop damage as far inland as Granville County. Storm damage was estimated at $250,000.
September 15-16, 1933 (Category 3)
A hurricane which formed near the Leeward Islands on the 10th moved northwest and then north, increased in intensity and struck the coast a little west of Hatteras about 8 a.m. on the 16th. The maximum wind velocity was 76 mi/h, estimated because a portion of the anemometer had blown away. Winds were estimated at 125 mi/h in New Bern and Beaufort. Damage was heavy from a short distance south of New Bern to the Virginia line. Wind and high water did great damage at New Bern where water reached a height of three to four feet in some streets, said to be two feet higher than the previous record which occurred in September, 1913. Old residents in Beaufort said the storm was the worst they had ever experienced. Up to 13 inches of rain fell on the Outer Banks.
At least 21 lives were lost and damage totaled at $3 million. High winds and waves and piling up of water in the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, caused the deaths and left hundreds without food or shelter. It was reported that in several coastal towns hardly a building was standing.
September 18, 1936 (Category 2)
This was one of the most severe hurricanes on record at Hatteras, where it caused an average 5-minute wind speed of 80 mi/h., with gusts much higher. Winds of 90 mi/h were reported at Manteo. Since the storm center passed over or slightly east of Hatteras, damage was confined principally to the northern half of the coast and was estimated at $25,000 to roads and bridges and $30,000 to buildings and piers. Damage to crops was heavy. The highway from Currituck to Norfolk, Virginia was washed out. There was some damage in Elizabeth City. Tides were very high at Manteo and Hatteras. About 35 feet of beach was cut away at Nags Head.
August 1, 1944 (Category 1)
A hurricane formed east of the Bahamas on July 30th, then moved northwest over open water until it struck the North Carolina coast in the vicinity of Southport about 8 p.m. on August 1st.
The storm was of small diameter. At Oak Island, where the wind indicator failed, the wind was estimated at 80 mi/h. Wilmington reported an extreme one-minute windspeed of 52 mi/h with gusts to 72 mi/h.
Damage at Carolina Beach was extensive and was due mainly to the unusually high tide and heavy seas which washed upon the beach and battered to pieces or undermined many dwellings and business places. Two fishing piers were demolished. Damage at Wrightsville Beach was less extensive, but two piers were partially wrecked and many roofs damaged. Thousands fled to Wilmington to escape the danger. In Wilmington, many roofs and windows were damaged and power and communication lines downed. In Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, and Onslow counties, damage to corn was estimated at 35%, tobacco 15%, and cotton 10%. Total damage was estimated at $2 million. Several persons were injured but there were no fatalities and more than 10,000 people were evacuated from beach areas in advance of the storm.
September 14, 1944 (Category 3)
The “Great Hurricane” of September 1944 caused destruction to 900 miles of the Atlantic coast from Hatteras north. Moving up from the south, the center of the hurricane passed, a short distance east of Hatteras, caused a wind velocity of 110 mi/h (extreme, estimated) and the lowest barometric pressure on record at that locality to that date. Cape Henry, Virginia, reported a wind velocity of 134 mi/h (extreme) with gusts estimated to 150 mi/h.
Because the center passed slightly east of Hatteras, damage to the south coast was slight, but the central and northern coastal areas suffered a loss of 108 buildings destroyed and about 675 damaged, amounted to an estimated $450,000 loss. Crop losses were estimated at $1 million. There was heavy damage in Elizabeth City and the Nags Head area. Damage to property and crops west of the 77th meridian was negligible. One person was killed in North Carolina and four were injured. The Coast Guard cutters Jackson and Bedloe capsized and sank while protecting a Liberty Ship torpedoed off the North Carolina coast.
September 17, 1945 (Category 1)
This severe hurricane, first noted in the Leeward Islands on September 11th, passed from south to north through Florida, then north through the central sections of South and North Carolina on the 17th. Although the force of the storm had diminished greatly before it reached North Carolina, it produced torrential rains of as much as eight inches in the state. Having been preceded by a three to five day period of heavy rains, the hurricane's precipitation fell on ground already saturated and most of it ran off into the streams. Major flooding occurred on rivers in the eastern half of North Carolina which were already in flood state from preceding rains. The Cape Fear River reached the highest levels of record. Moncure reached 39.0 feet on the 18th (flood stage 20 feet); Fayetteville 68.9 feet on the 21st (flood stage 35 feet) and Elizabethtown 43.2 feet on the 23rd (flood stage 20 feet).
Loss of life was reported as “small,” but economic losses “very large.” Large areas of crop lands were flooded and water reached the eaves of many dwellings in the lower Cape Fear Basin. Small dams broke in Richmond County, resulted in flash floods of exceptional height.
October 15, 1954 - HAZEL (Category 4)
Hurricane Hazel, the most destructive storm in the history of North Carolina at that time, left death and devastation in its wake from Haiti to southeast Canada. Following are excerpts from the official report of the Raleigh Weather Bureau Office concerning this storm.
The storm center entered the North Carolina coast at a point almost exactly coincident with the South Carolina line with a central pressure of somewhat lower than 28 inches of mercury at about 10 a.m. From there it moved north in slightly curved path that took the center east of Whiteville and Clinton, west of Goldsboro, Wilson, and Nashville, and across the Virginia line in or near Warren County, North Carolina, about 2:30 p.m., the lowest pressure having risen to about 28.50 inches. The center was apparently quite large, since “eye” characteristics were reported from points ten to fifteen miles on either side of the path just described.
Wind-driven tides devastated the immediate ocean front from the South Carolina line to Cape Lookout. All traces of civilization on that portion of the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated. Grass-covered dunes some 10 to 20 feet high along and behind which beach homes had been built in a continuous line five miles long simply disappeared, dunes, houses and all. The paved roadway along which the houses were built was partially washed away, partially buried beneath several feet of sand. The greater part of the material from which houses had been built was washed from one to two hundred yards back into the edge of the low-lying woods which cover the leeward side of the islands. Some of this material is identifiable as having been parts of houses, but the greater portion of it is ground to unrecognizable splinters and bits of masonry. Of the 357 buildings which existed on Long Beach, 352 were totally destroyed and the other five damaged.
Similar conditions prevailed on Holden Beach, Ocean Isle, Robinson, and Colonial Beach. In most cases it is impossible to tell where the buildings stood. Where grassy dunes stood, there is now only flat, white, sandy beach.
Northeastward up the coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout the degree of devastation is not as great, but ocean front property is damaged an average of perhaps fifty percent along the entire stretch. North of Cape Lookout beach damage is relatively light. Tidewater rose into the lower lying portions of cities along broad mouthed rivers emptying on the coast; considerable damage was done to residential and business property in Washington, and some lesser flooding occurred in New Bern and Elizabeth City. Inland, out of reach of the rising waters, a tremendous area of North Carolina received damage from high winds. An estimated one-third of all buildings east of the 80th meridian received some damage. Roofs were the most likely hit, with damage ranging from one loose shingle or a bent TV aerial to the entire frame and cover lifted off. Radio towers, outdoor theaters and signboards were overturned, twisted, or otherwise damaged.
It is impossible to evaluate the loss of timber and shade trees. In the city of Raleigh alone, an average of two or three trees fell per block. Remarkably few fell on houses, but those few did real destruction. A dozen other cities in the eastern two-thirds of the state fared similarly, while few old country estates with orderly arrangements of oaks or elms escaped the loss of one or more.
In the forests the damage is variable, but its total is tremendous. In the worst places, hundreds of trees per mile can be counted simply in driving along the highway; most of these are uprooted and thrown flat to the ground, but many were blown down by a straight-line windstorm, while in others small-scale tornadic action is apparent. Most of the latter that we have actually seen is in the area around Goldsboro, where young pine forests are dotted with fifty-foot swaths where every tree is twisted off at ten to twenty feet above the ground.
At least ten stations in North Carolina reported the highest 24-hour rainfall amounts of record in connection with “Hazel.” These record amounts ranged from around six and a half inches at Burlington, High Point, and Lexington up to 9.72 inches at Carthage, located in the Sandhills. The U. S. Geological Survey reports that their special rain gage at Robbins, several miles north of Carthage, measured 11.25 inches. This gage is not a part of the Weather Bureau cooperative network. Rainfall in the eastern half of the storm was astonishingly light, several stations reporting less than an inch. There are few wind records available for comparison. Wilmington, which has moved to a new location within the past few years, reports a top gust of 98 mi/h, fastest minute 82 mi/h, and maximum five minutes 61 mi/h, all from the southeast, at 10:42 a.m.. The previous fastest minute at Wilmington is listed as 65 mi/h. At Raleigh-Durham wind speeds are indicated only by dial; this was watched closely during the height of the storm, and gusts to 90 mi/h were observed.
Estimates based on observation of the dial give a highest one-minute speed of 73 mi/h and a maximum five-minute speed of 62 mi/h. All these maxima were from the west-northwest, and occurred between 1:30 and 1:35 p.m. The previous fastest minute on record in Raleigh was 66 mi/h, and the maximum five-minute speed 56 mi/h. Winds during Hazel were estimated as high as 120 mi/h in gusts by observers in Goldsboro, Kinston, and Faison. No barometric low pressure records are known to have been broken.
There are nineteen known dead in North Carolina because of the hurricane; most of them were at or near the beach, but two or three were inland, dying from electrocution, falls or falling objects. An estimated 200 persons were injured. Property damage estimates are still on unofficial basis, and vary. An Associated Press survey of the beaches indicates $36 million damage on the North Carolina beach area.
The wide coverage of wind damage inland is borne out by the fact that thirty North Carolina counties report damage to school buildings. We believe that the total inland crop and property damage in North Carolina is close to $100 million.
August 12, 1955 - CONNIE (Category 3)
Hurricane Connie moved north onto the North Carolina coast very close to Cape Lookout about 8:30 a.m. on August 12th. The storm center passed north through the coastal counties, passed just east of Oriental, Belhaven, Plymouth, and Elizabeth City and crossed the Virginia line near Norfolk about midnight.
For several days, Connie had traveled a sluggish path which, combined with the large-scale wind pattern over the North Atlantic, piled up a wall of high water along the North Carolina coast. This slow movement of the storm through the state aggravated the situation and thousands of acres of farm land were flooded as well as low lying residential areas around the sounds. The prolonged pounding of high waves against the coast caused tremendous beach erosion estimated to have been worse than that caused by Hazel in 1954. Tides on the immediate coast from Southport to Nags Head were reported at about seven feet above normal, while the water of the sounds and near the mouths of rivers rose an estimated five to eight feet above normal.
While the hurricane was still out to sea, a tornado struck at Penderlea on the evening of August 10th, and destroyed five buildings and injured one person. Highest winds directly associated with Connie when the storm reached North Carolina were barely of hurricane force, the highest reliable report being northeast 72 mi/h with gusts to 83 mi/h at Wilmington.
This storm brought torrential rains, which ranged from around 12 inches near Morehead City down to one to two inches in the eastern Piedmont.
No deaths or injuries were directly attributable to this storm in North Carolina.
Hurricane Diane followed so closely after Connie that it was impossible to assess damage due to each storm. The official estimate of losses from the two hurricanes was $80 million, including $60 million in crops (and salt water damage to crop lands) and $20 million in beach and other property damage.
August 17, 1955 - DIANE (Category 2)
Even before the damage from Hurricane Connie could be properly estimated, Hurricane Diane struck North Carolina.
Hurricane Diane entered the coast near Carolina Beach about 6 a.m. on August 17th. The storm center then followed a nearly straight line course north-northwest across Wilmington, passed west of Clinton and Raleigh, directly across Durham and thence to the Virginia line slightly west of Danville, and left the state about 6:30 p.m.
The highest wind reported was northeast 74 mi/h at Wilmington Airport. Structural damage due to wind alone was rather light, but crops previously windblown in Connie were further damaged as far west as near Raleigh.
Tides in connection with Diane were in general more severe than those with Connie, both on the ocean and in the sounds and rivers. Tides ranged from five to nine feet above mean low water on the beaches and estimated five to nine feet above normal in parts of the sounds and the rivers emptied into the sounds. Water was three feet above floor level in the business district of Belhaven, while water was “waist deep” in parts of Washington and New Bern.
Beach erosion caused by Diane was severe. Thousands of acres of farmland were again flooded with salt water. One thousand people were evacuated from low lying sections of towns on the sounds and adjoining rivers.
Heavy rains fell near the path of the storm center, amounting generally to four to eight inches during the period August 15th to 18th.
No deaths or injuries were officially attributed to Hurricane Diane in North Carolina.
September 19, 1955 - IONE (Category 3)
The center of Hurricane Ione entered the North Carolina coast from the south near Salter Path, about 10 miles west of Morehead City, about 5 a.m. on September 19. Moving slowly and somewhat erratically north, the center passed a little west of Cherry Point, Oriental, and Belhaven, then curved to the northeast, passed to the southeast of Elizabeth City and left the coast near the Virginia line very early on the 20th.
When Ione entered North Carolina, her highest winds were over 100 mi/h in gusts. The storm weakened steadily as she passed through the state; highest winds were near 70 mi/h when it moved out to sea. The highest sustained (one-minute) wind speed was north-northeast 75 mi/h at Cherry Point, with gusts to 107 mi/h.
Structural damage due to wind alone was rare, although many roof shingles were blown off and television antennas damaged, mostly in the eastern half of the Coastal Plain. The principle damage was due to water. Since the approach of Hurricane Connie on August 10th, North Carolina had been repeatedly drenched with heavy rains. More than 30 inches fell on the wettest portions of the state between the 10th and the approach of Ione; the additional 16 inches that fell on those same areas in connection with Ione brought 45-day rainfall totals up to figures without precedent in North Carolina weather history. In the 41-day period, August 11th through September 20th, the cooperative weather substation at Hofmann Forest (6 miles southwest of Maysville) received a total of 48.90 inches of rain. Approximately one-third of the unprecedented amount of rain fell in about 30 hours with Hurricane Ione. At the same time, prolonged easterly winds drove tide water onto the beaches and into the sounds and their estuaries to height of three to ten feet above normal. The result was inundation of the greatest area of eastern North Carolina ever known to have been flooded. At New Bern the depth of water was the greatest of record, being about 10.5 ft above mean low water, with 40 city blocks flooded. Thousands of acres of farmland were flooded and thousands of homes were invaded by water to depths ranging up to four feet. Several hundred homes were washed away.
A total of seven deaths in North Carolina were attributed to Ione, five from drowning and two from automobile accidents brought on by flood water. Injuries from the storm were negligible.
Estimates of property damage from Hurricane Ione were:
Public Utilities: 1,000,000
Highways and Bridges: 1,000,000
Beach Property: 10,000,000
Other Property: 30,000,000
September 21-22, 1989 - HUGO (Category 3)
Hugo originated off the African coast and moved to near the Cape Verde Islands and developed into a tropical depression on the 10th. He continued moving west and became a tropical storm on the 11th and a hurricane on the 13th. On the 15th Hugo turned to a west-northwest course and moved across the northeast tip of Puerto Rico on the morning of the 18th. After moving past Puerto Rico, the storm turned to a northwesterly course and was a few hundred miles east of Florida on the 21st. Hugo then turned to a more northerly course and headed for the Carolinas.
Hugo made landfall near Charleston, South Carolina at Sullivans Island around midnight on the 21st. After making landfall Hugo began to weaken and turned to a north-northwest course passing near Shaw Air Force Base (Sumter, South Carolina) around 4 a.m. and had weakened to tropical storm force just south of Charlotte by 6 a.m. As Hugo moved into North Carolina, his forward speed began to increase, and by late afternoon was moving at 40 mi/h to the north. Hugo moved rapidly across extreme western Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Ohio and to near Erie, Pennsylvania, by evening on the 22nd where he transformed into an extratropical storm.
Hurricane Hugo made landfall near Charleston as a category four hurricane. Hugo was estimated to be minimal category three in Brunswick County, North Carolina (due to storm surge and battering of beach front homes) and was tropical storm force in the Charlotte area. Damage figures are astronomical and Hugo was the costliest hurricane ever to make landfall on the U. S. mainland. Damage in South Carolina was estimated at four billion dollars; in the Charlotte area and the surrounding counties to Hickory damage was around one billion dollars. Some wind damage was also reported in the southern coastal plains of North Carolina. Damage in the coastal counties of North Carolina was primarily in Brunswick County where over $70 million damage was reported. Over 120 homes on the beaches of Long Beach and Ocean Isle Beach were destroyed by the battering of the storm surge or condemned because of the damage. Several homes on Holden Beach suffered the same effects.
Severe beach erosion occurred in Brunswick County, with many sections of the barrier island beaches dune system cut or eliminated. Some beach erosion occurred from New Hanover County to Onslow County. Oceanfront fishing piers were severely damaged in Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, and Onslow counties.
The total number of deaths associated with Hurricane Hugo was estimated at 82 as follows: South Carolina 27, North Carolina 7, Virginia 6, New York 1, Puerto Rico 12, U. S. Virgin Islands 6, Antigua and Barbuda 1, Guadeloupe 11, Montserrat 10, and St Kitts and Nevis 1.
When Hugo made landfall near Charleston, South Carolina, the highest sustained wind speed (1-minute average) was estimated to be around 138 mi/h. A ship anchored in the Sampit River five miles west of Georgetown reported a sustained wind speed of 120 mi/h (anemometer was on the ship's mast at 61 feet elevation). Gusts of 99 mi/h were reported in Columbia and a gust to 109 mi/h at Shaw Air Force Base (Sumter). Folly Beach Coastal-Marine Automated Network (C-MAN) station had a sustained wind speed of 85 mi/h with a gust to 107 mi/h.
In North Carolina, Charlotte reported the highest sustained wind speed 69 mi/h with a gust to 87 mi/h. Hickory had a gust of 81 mi/h. A 70 mi/h gust was reported on the Cape Fear River by a pilot boat between Southport and Ft. Caswell. Holden Beach had a gust to 59 mi/h. Greensboro reported a gust to 54 mi/h, Wilmington a gust to 53 mi/h, and Cape Hatteras a gust to 35 mi/h.
Storm tides in South Carolina were near 20 feet at Bulls Bay, McClellanville 13 to 16 feet, Myrtle Beach 13 feet, Folly Beach 10 to 12 feet, and Charleston 10 feet.
Storm tides in North Carolina were highest in Brunswick County ranging from 8 to 10 feet. From New Hanover County north along the coast storm tides were around five feet.
The storm total rainfall of 8.10 inches was reported near Charleston, South Carolina and 5.98 inches at Summerville, South Carolina.
Storm total rainfalls for North Carolina were as follows: Boone 6.91 inches, Charlotte 3.16 inches, Asheville 1.93 inches, Greensboro 1.43 inches, Wilmington 0.79 inches, Cape Hatteras 0.60 inches, and Raleigh 0.45 inches.
July 12, 1996 - BERTHA (Category 2)
Bertha originated from a tropical wave which passed from Africa into the Atlantic Ocean on July 1st and became a depression over the central tropical Atlantic on the 5th. The system continued on a brisk westerly course and strengthened to hurricane force while crossing the Leeward and Virgin Islands on the 8th. Bertha then proceeded on a northwest course north of Puerto Rico and headed for the Carolinas during the 10th of July. The hurricane made landfall midway between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Island around 4 p.m. on July 12th. Although Bertha had weakened while offshore, she suddenly re-gained category two status just 12 hours prior to landfall. The hurricane was quickly downgraded to tropical storm status as it passed north over the coastal plain of North Carolina and into the Mid-Atlantic states before becoming extratropical on the 14th.
Highest sustained winds were estimated to have been around 90 mi/h at landfall with Jacksonville/North Topsail Beach measuring speeds near 85 mi/h with gusts in excess of 100 mi/h. Higher gusts were also noted offshore with the C-MAN station at Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower located southeast of Wilmington seeing speeds up to 115 mi/h. Storm surge flooding was most significant along south facing beaches between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout where average surge heights of around five feet were observed. Swansboro saw the most damage from storm surge flooding where a surge of more than six feet pushed water into many businesses on the waterfront. An estimated 5,000 homes were damaged mainly due to the storm surge. Rainfall amounts of five to eight inches also lead to minor fresh water flooding and combined with storm surge to enhance levels seen along the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
Serious flooding from the Pamlico Sound was reported in Belhaven, Washington, and New Bern. Belhaven saw its previous record flood level of 6.6 feet eclipsed by the seven foot surge of Bertha. Surge heights of around seven feet were also observed in Washington where extensive damage to homes and business occurred along the adjacent Pamlico and Neuse Rivers.
In addition, severe beach erosion, roof damage, destroyed piers, fallen trees, and damage to crops lead to federal disaster declaration across coastal North Carolina. Total figures put damage across North Carolina at $270 million.
Eight deaths were contributed to Bertha, with only one in North Carolina which was due to a traffic accident.
September 5, 1996 - FRAN (Category 3)
Fran was another Cape Verde hurricane that was similar to Bertha a couple months earlier. She tracked from off the African coast as a tropical wave and made the long track across the southern Atlantic to coastal North Carolina. The system was hampered early on due to her proximity to another stronger hurricane, Edouard, which passed well east of the North Carolina coast just a few days prior to Fran’s landfall. Fran reached her strongest intensity just northeast of the central Bahamas on September 4th and then moved toward the Carolina coast, making landfall over southeast North Carolina just west of Cape Fear at 7:30 p.m. on the 5th. The hurricane then slowly weakened to a tropical storm early on the 6th as she passed across the Raleigh-Durham area of central North Carolina. Fran became a depression while moving across western Virginia on the 6th and was declared extratropical over the eastern Great Lakes on September 8th.
Maximum sustained winds at landfall were estimated around 115 mi/h with higher gusts in streaks associated with rainbands across Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, Onslow, and Carteret counties. The highest unofficial gusts recorded were around 130 mi/h along Hewletts Creek in Wilmington and 120 mi/h in Wrightsville Beach. Hurricane force winds also spread well inland with major damage to homes, trees, and power lines seen over inland areas from Fayetteville north to Raleigh including the Virginia border counties. Over 4.5 million people in the Carolinas were without power in the aftermath of Fran.
Extensive storm surge flooding of eight to 13 feet damaged or completely destroyed many beachfront homes southwest of Cape Lookout and caused destruction to piers and boats along much of the coastal community. The high water levels and storm surge exceeded some levels established by Hazel, a category four storm back in 1954. Severe beach erosion also was noted, especially from Emerald Isle and Topsail Beach south where Bertha had left little or no dune protection in her wake. Some minor flooding was also reported along the Pamlico Sound but below the levels of Bertha a couple months earlier.
Rainfall amounts exceeded six inches in many areas along the path of Fran with Doppler Radar estimates of up to 12 inches in Pender and Brunswick counties. Extensive fresh water flooding resulted from Fran with the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers seeing record crest levels and prolonged flooding into late September. The Neuse River in Kinston reached a crest level of 23.3 feet which was only second to the unofficial high water mark of 25 feet seen in 1907. This resulted in severe flooding of homes and businesses with damage amounting to $30 million in Lenoir County.
Overall property damage with Fran was 3.2 billion dollars with the worst economic damage being over two billion dollars in North Carolina alone.
Fran was indirectly responsible for a total of 34 deaths of which 21 occurred in North Carolina mainly from flash flooding and vehicle accidents.
Extremes for 19th and 20th century North Carolina Hurricanes:
Earliest: June 3-4, 1825
Latest: December 1, 1925
Most Intense: Hazel (CAT 4), October, 1954
Costliest: Hugo (CAT 3), September, 1989
Highest Wind: August 18, 1879, Cape Lookout estimated winds of 168 mi/h. (Several reports of 150 mi/h occurred with Hazel in 1954)
Most Deaths: 53 deaths were recorded September 11, 1883
Highest Storm Tide: 18 feet at Calabash associated with Hazel in 1954