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Skip looks back on Eastern Carolina's history of hurricanes

By Skip Waters
Published On: May 12 2014 05:58:53 PM CDT
Updated On: May 12 2014 06:16:00 PM CDT
EASTERN CAROLINA -

Eastern North Carolina is no stranger to tropical weather systems like hurricanes.

Our most recent 20-year history of hurricanes starts in the summer of 1996, when, for the first time in 41 years, two hurricanes hit in the same season. That summer, Bertha and Fran caused enormous destruction.

Hurricane Bertha made landfall between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Island on July 12 as a category two storm. More than 120 homes were destroyed at North Topsail Beach. Bertha dropped below hurricane status shortly after landfall, but significant damage continued to be produced by falling trees, flooding rain and serious beach erosion.

Fran was the first direct hit by a major hurricane in 36 years, coming onshore on Thursday, Sept. 5 near Bald Head Island as a category three storm with 115 mph winds. Fran moved north up the Cape Fear River basin and then north to Kinston. The storm brought 8 to 13-foot storm surge flooding along the coast. Fran stalled   and produced enough rainfall over much of the Neuse River, causing $30 million in damage in Lenoir County alone.

The year 1999 brought Dennis, first as a hurricane and then again as a tropical storm. Dennis meandered just off the N.C. Outer Banks and finally made landfall over Cape Lookout National Seashore on Saturday, Sept. 4. Its unique circle path allowed it to bring flooding rainfall to our area twice in the same week. Dennis produced major sound side flooding in the counties surrounding the Pamlico Sound and devastated Hatteras Island.

After Dennis, summer thunderstorms put down another 10 inches of rainfall over the Tar and Neuse River basin. Then, Hurricane Floyd made landfall on Sept. 16 at Cape Fear as a category two hurricane and moved north over New Bern, Washington and Norfolk. The Neuse and Pamlico Rivers had storm surge of 6 to 8 feet, and the high winds and heavy surf were extremely destructive along our coast.

When Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, it wasn't the fresh water flooding that produced the big damage. It was storm surge and wind-driven tides that filled homes with water on the barrier islands and inner banks. Water levels rose significantly in the counties surrounding the Pamlico Sound, with major ocean overwash wiping out highways, piers and beaches along the Outer Banks.

Hurricane Ophelia never made landfall, but crept along the Crystal Coast on Sept. 14 at a snail's pace while the western half of the storm pounded the Bogue Banks and Ocracoke Island. Storm surge and wind drive tides in the Pamlico, Core and Bogue Sounds produced 5 to 8-foot storm tides that destroyed businesses and homes from Atlantic Beach to Salter Path. The Channel Marker restaurant at Atlantic Beach and the Crab Shack at Salter Path were the hardest hit of the local landmarks. In all, Ophelia produce 30 hours of pounding waves.

In August, 2011, Hurricane Irene exploded to major hurricane strength over the warm Bahamian waters before turning northward, weakening, and hitting eastern North Carolina as a much less powerful storm. The weakened Irene came onshore on the morning of the 27th near Cape Lookout with 85 mph winds as a category one hurricane. The storm may have weakened, but it had a huge circulation-- producing clouds and rain across an area 300 miles wide. Irene's large size and slow pace yielded very high rainfall totals along its path. As the storm's eye tracked through the Pamlico Sound, water surged westward, overfilling creeks and rivers on the west side of the sound and producing major flooding in homes and businesses. In fact, in the Pamlico Sound region, the flooding surpassed levels seen in hurricanes Fran, Floyd and Isabel.

NewsChannel 12's Hurricane Series will continue on Tuesday, May 13. Meteorologist Les Still will alert you to the different dangers that tropical storms and hurricanes can bring. Tune in to NewsChannel 12 at 6 p.m. for Les' report.