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Hurricane season arrives in North Carolina

Right on cue.

Although the 35th annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival was wiped off the 2020 calendar due to COVID-19, that event typically signals the start of another yearly tradition….hurricanes.

Yep…tis the season for those tropical cyclones. Even in a year dominated by coronavirus headlines, we can safely bet that Mother Nature will hold true to form and send a tropical system or two our way every year.

As a matter of fact, I saw a great post on Facebook this past weekend: “Y’all don’t need to panic….a hurricane coming toward North Carolina is the most normal thing that has happened in 2020.”

We do indeed live in hurricane alley. Our curved coastline, from Wilmington northward to Cape Hatteras, seems to be a magnet when it comes to attracting tropical systems, and we’ve experienced many during the course of my lifetime.

Ranking as one of the worst hurricanes in the history of North Carolina is Hazel. That category 4 monster, with 130 mph winds, came onshore between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington on Oct. 15, 1954. Although I was alive at that time (almost 16 months old), I only remember the stories shared by my parents. They included one about my grandfather, Harvey Thomas Joyner, holding down the barn roof in that storm.

At landfall, the hurricane brought a storm surge of over 18 feet to a large area of coastline. Brunswick County suffered the heaviest damage where most coastal dwellings were either destroyed or severely damaged. At Long Beach, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing.

Other parts of our coast were also severely impacted. As a matter of fact, every pier along a 170-mile stretch was demolished by Hazel.

But she wasn’t the only major storm to strike our state in my lifetime. Hurricanes Donna (1960), Diana (1984), Emily (1993) and Fran (1996) were all “Cat 3” strength when they struck and all made landfall in our state during the months of August or September.

Donna was the first one to put a scare in me. I was seven years old at the time and remember daddy getting us up in the middle of the night to gather in the living room. Our little house took a beating, but we all survived.

There were weaker storms (wind-wise) but packed a bigger punch with rainfall.

The one-two punch of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd hit us in late August and mid-September of 1999. Dennis parked off our coast and dumped 12+ inches of rain. I remember driving back from Fayetteville after covering Chowan’s football season opener at Methodist College. It was raining so hard on I-95 that traffic slowed to a snail’s pace.

A couple weeks later, Floyd came calling. With the ground still saturated from the soaking we took from Dennis, Mr. Floyd added 20 inches more. I spent the night with Hertford County Emergency Management, tagging along with them on calls. The phones rang all night long.

Two years later (2001), another flood, this one courtesy of the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison, served as the final blow that finished off the residential area (Lakewood Drive / Edgewood Drive) bordering the Ahoskie Creek. That area was under water during Hurricane Floyd and the flood from Allison led to a FEMA buyout. That area is now a park.

Sept. 18, 2003 proved as another memorable date. Hurricane Isabel roared onshore at Drum Inlet, packing 105 mph winds. The storm surge dug a new inlet on Hatteras Island and even caused property damage as far inland as the Chowan River.

Hurricane Irene was another “August” storm, impacting us locally after making landfall at Cape Lookout on Aug. 27, 2011. My home was damaged in that storm.

Hurricane Arthur was supposed to turn out to sea well south of our part of the state on Independence Day of 2015. Instead. It moved further north than expected and brushed us with its high winds.

Another soaking hurricane – Matthew – came calling on Oct. 8, 2016. Our area was drenched with 12-to-15 inches of rain. Two of the state’s 28 deaths from that storm were here locally.

Since that time we’ve been impacted by Hurricane Florence (Sept. of 2018), Tropical Storm Michael (Oct. of 2018), and Hurricane Dorian in Sept. of last year.

And if you will note, all of the above storms except two (Allison and Arthur) occurred during the months of August through October.

Yep….our hurricane season is just getting cranked up.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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