|Hurricanes and North Carolina
North Carolina is at risk for high winds, coastal flooding, rainfall flooding and tornadoes.
During the past century nearly the entire eastern two-thirds of the state has experienced
hurricane force gusts, if not sustained hurricane strength winds, at some time. Hurricane
Isabel in 2003 was the last tropical cyclone to bring widespread hurricane force gusts to
eastern North Carolina, along with significant coastal flooding. Many locations along the
Outer Banks received hurricane force gusts from Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Other
significant high wind events of the past hundred years occurred in 1933, 1944, 1954,
1955, 1960, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 1999. The last Category 4 hurricanes to come
ashore include the hurricane of September 1879 ("Great Tempest") and Hazel in 1954.
Hurricane Floyd in 1999 generated double-digit rainfall in eastern sections, producing
catastrophic flooding. Western North Carolina has had many destructive floods caused by
tropical cyclones. Significant hurricane-related rainfall events affected the state in 1928,
1940, 1955 and 1972.
A spate of hurricane remnant systems generated numerous tornadoes in September
2004, a cautionary lesson on the ability of tropical systems to produce locally severe
conditions as they track over land.
The following are some of North Carolina's significant tropical cyclones:
1752 On September 30 and October 1 a hurricane destroyed the Onslow County seat, then
located along the coast. It was rebuilt at an inland location. According to a contemporary
account that likely originated from the Wilmington area, "The wind blew so hard it stemmed the
Gulf Stream in its northern course and threw it on the shores. At 9 o'clock the flood came rolling
in with great impetuosity and in a short time the tide rose ten feet above the high water mark of
the highest tide."
1769 One of the most severe hurricanes to strike the state during the 18th century ravaged
the Outer Banks and adjacent interior sections on September 6-7. Much of New Bern, the
colonial capital, was severely damaged or destroyed from winds and flooding. Many houses blew
down, including the Brunswick County Court House.
1788 A hurricane made landfall on the Outer Banks, tracking northwest into Virginia. Many
vessels were driven ashore. George Washington wrote a detailed account of this storm in his
diary. Damage was notable at Mount Vernon in Virginia but modest compared to losses in the
area of landfall 200 miles to the southeast.
1825 A hurricane, among the earliest in the hurricane season on record, brought damaging
winds to North Carolina on June 3-4. Losses were greatest along the Outer Banks. The storm
was likely a minimal hurricane, a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
1876 The "Centennial Gale" swept through eastern North Carolina on September 17
bringing widespread storm and hurricane force winds to the eastern quarter of the state. Major
tidal flooding occurred east of the hurricane track. The event brought an end to two decades of
generally mild hurricane activity.
1878 The "Great October Gale." A severe hurricane, a Category 3, roared just inside the
Outer Banks on October 23. Maximum winds greater than 100 mph were recorded at Cape
Lookout. Sections of the state east of the track had hurricane strength winds.
1879 The hurricane of August 18 ranks among the most intense landfalling hurricanes to
visit the state during the 19th century. Anemometers were destroyed at Hatteras, Fort Macon
and Kitty Hawk. The damage was extreme in the Morehead City and Beaufort area, from where
the state's vacationing governor was forced to flee.
1896 Some hurricanes swirl destructive winds through interior sections well away from the
coast. The hurricane of September 29, which made landfall in northwestern Florida, left a
lengthy, 30 to 40 miles wide, destructive trail through central North Carolina. Chapel Hill, the
Raleigh-Durham area and many communities were affected.
1899 The "San Ciriaco Hurricane" of August 16-18, crawled through lower sections of the
Outer Banks. A legendary hurricane to residents, the ocean overwashed Hatteras and many
nearby areas. Diamond City, the state's only whaling community, was abandoned after the storm.
1933 After a lull lasting 30 years, destructive hurricanes began frequent visits. In August
and September, strong hurricanes struck eastern North Carolina. The hurricane of September
16 ranks among the century's most intense. Up to 13 inches of rain pelted the Outer Banks and
gusts exceeded 100 mph at many locations. Morehead City and Beaufort suffered huge losses.
In the village of Oriental, water undermined the Baptist Church and wind reversed its direction.
1940 Western North Carolina has experienced many tropical systems that dumped flooding
rainfall. From August 13-15 a hurricane carved a serpentine track through the southern
Appalachians after coming ashore in South Carolina. Persistent heavy rainfall caused
widespread flooding in western North Carolina. Landslides killed two boys near Lenoir. North
Wilkesboro was swept by a record flood on the Yadkin River leaving more than 500 residents
1944 The Great Atlantic Hurricane. This Category 4 powerhouse tracked within a few miles
of Cape Hatteras on September 14 before moving north and punishing the Outer Banks. Cape
Hatteras recorded a record low barometric pressure of 27.97 inches. The Coast Guard cutters
Bedloe and Jackson sank off the coast, with the loss of 47 crewmen.
1954 Hurricane Hazel on October 15 became the most intense hurricane to make landfall in
North Carolina during the 20th century. The Category 4 hurricane swept inland near South
Carolina, making shambles of many North Carolina beach communities. Destructive winds
affected the eastern quarter of the state, with reports of 100 mph+ gusts north to the Virginia
border. Isolated flash flooding occurred west of Hazel's track.
1955 Hurricanes Connie, Diane and Ione struck within six weeks causing epic flooding in
eastern sections. Connie on August 11-12, Diane on August 16-17 and Ione on September 19
dumped a combined 48.9 inches at the Maysville cooperative weather station. Connie and Ione
were Category 2 hurricanes at landfall, while Diane was a Category1.
1960 Category 3 Hurricane Donna plowed just inside the Outer Banks region on September
12, making landfall at Cape Fear. Sustained winds were 115 mph at Cape Fear, and remained
above hurricane force throughout Donna's 150 mile trek through the state. Rainfall totals were
generally 4 to 8 inches, with some higher amounts.
1972 Hurricane Agnes made landfall on the Florida Gulf coast, before tracking through the
southeastern US. Torrential rainfall pummelled the western two-thirds of North Carolina on June
20-22 causing extensive flooding.
1989 Hurricane Hugo struck near Charleston, South Carolina, on September 21-22, then
gradually swung northwest, north and northeast. The Category 4 weakened to a Category 1 as
it plunged more than 200 miles inland before tracking through the Charlotte area. It caused
extensive damage with winds still gusting near 100 mph.
1996 Hurricane Bertha struck the state on July 12, with a peak gust of 108 mph. Hurricane
Fran churned through eastern North Carolina on September 5, with sustained winds up to 115
mph. Not since 1955 had the state experienced two hurricane landfalls in the same season.
1999 Hurricane Dennis soaked the state in late August and early September followed by
Hurricane Floyd on September 16. Floyd, a Category 2 storm that made landfall just west of
Cape Hatteras, dumped 10 to more than 20 inches in eastern North Carolina causing record
flooding and an environmental catastrophe.
2003 On September 18, Hurricane Isabel slammed Ocracoke and preceded to plow through
northeastern North Carolina. Category 2 Isabel caused widespread power outages and coastal
flooding. It blew down countless trees.
2011 Hurricane Irene came ashore in eastern North Carolina on August 27 as a Category 1
storm, with 85 mph sustained winds. More than 1100 homes were destroyed. Irene became only
the third hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. East Coast north of Florida in this century.
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Hurricane Donna takes aim on North Carolina. Sustained winds up to 115 mph and widespread hurricane force
gusts east of the eye, as well as torrential rainfall, made Donna memorable. (NOAA, Dept. of Commerce)