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North and South Carolina coasts have been hit by plenty of storms — but few major hurricanes

Posted at 6:11 AM, Sep 11, 2018

Over the past century, some famous and devastating hurricanes have battered North and South Carolina. We're talking about Hugo in 1989 and Hazel in 1954 -- storms that caused so much devastation, their names were retired.

But in meteorological terms, the really big ones don't hit the Carolinas that often.

Since 1879, only seven major hurricanes have made landfall on the stretch of coastline from Savannah, Georgia, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. A major hurricane is a Category 3 storm or greater, meaning it has winds of at least 111 mph.

"There's 25 percent more people living between Charleston and Morehead City (North Carolina) than there were when Hugo was making landfall," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Tuesday morning.


"Many of the people here have never seen a storm this strong," he said, predicting rip currents, strong winds, beach erosion and surf going "over some of the islands."

"They have no idea what 'overwash' of an island will do to a home, what the wind could do to your home and what to do to your home to make it safer after you evacuate," Myers said, urging residents, especially relative newcomers to the coast: "Listen to your local managers, listen to what they tell you."

Of course, a hurricane can cause extensive damage without being a major storm.

"Hurricanes are ranked historically almost exclusively by their wind speed, but significant damage and fatalities occur from a variety of hazards, including heavy rainfall and inland flooding," Miller said. "These types of hazards can occur even with much weaker storms, such as tropical storms or minimal hurricanes."

In the fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew was a Category 1 and 2 when it hit North and South Carolina and flooded the coastal zone, reported the National Hurricane Center.

The storm caused 34 deaths in the United States and almost 600 overall, the hurricane center said. Most of the devastation occurred in Haiti.

These are the major hurricanes to strike the Carolinas since 1879:

1996: Hurricane Fran made landfall as a Category 3 stormon September 5 near Cape Fear, North Carolina. Twenty-six people died, including 14 in North Carolina, the hurricane center said. The storm caused about $5 million in damages. Fran's name also was retired.

1989: Hurricane Hugo first devastated the Caribbean before striking as a Category 4 storm just north of Charleston, South Carolina, on September 22. Hugo was responsible for 21 deaths in the mainland United States, five more in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and 24 more elsewhere in the Caribbean. Damages: $9 billion.

1959: Hurricane Gracie was a Category 4 storm that made landfall on September 29 near Beaufort, South Carolina, with winds of about 130 mph. Because the storm came ashore at low tide, the impact was lessened, the National Weather Service said. At least 22 people died.

1954: Hurricane Hazel wrecked the Caribbean before making landfall on October 15 as a Category 4 hurricane near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Winds were around 130 mph at landfall. Hazel was responsible for 95 deaths and $281 million in damage in the United States, 100 deaths and $100 million in damage in Canada and an estimated 400 to 1,000 deaths in Haiti, the hurricane center said.

1899: An unnamed Category 3 storm came ashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with winds of 120 mph, CNN meteorologists said. About 3,000 people were killed by the storm, mostly in Puerto Rico.

1893: An unnamed Category 3 storm made landfall north of Charleston, South Carolina, CNN meteorologists said. The death toll was 1,000 to 2,000, though records don't specify where the deaths occurred.

1879: An unnamed Category 3 storm with winds of 115 mph made landfall near Morehead City, North Carolina, CNN meteorologists said. A reported 46 people died.