North Carolina's Hurricane History

North Carolina's Hurricane History

North Carolina's Hurricane History

North Carolina's Hurricane History


North Carolina's Hurricane History charts the more than fifty great storms that have battered the Tar Heel State from the colonial era through Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, two of the costliest hurricanes on record. Drawing on news reports, National Weather Service records, and eyewitness descriptions, hurricane historian Jay Barnes emphasizes the importance of learning from this extraordinary history as North Carolina prepares for the inevitable disastrous storms to come. Featuring more than 200 photographs, maps, and illustrations, this book offers amazing stories of destruction and survival. While some are humorous and some tragic, all offer a unique perspective on the state's unending vulnerability to these storms.


In November 2011, weeks after Hurricane Irene swept through eastern North Carolina, I took a drive through portions of Pamlico, Beaufort, Hyde, and western Dare Counties to see for myself what remained of the storm’s impact. I cruised the two-lane roads that wind endlessly through the region, passing farm fields, large timber tracts, and modest homes that line the highway. High water filled most of the roadside ditches—not because of the hurricane, but simply in testament to the low, flat profile of the area. It was easy to see broken and fallen pines near the highway, and in some places, I spotted large trees that had collapsed on homes, fences, and barns. Occasionally, I’d pass a convoy of Department of Transportation dump trucks and workers on their way to remove massive amounts of tree stumps and debris. But overall, the region looked pretty good, I thought. The roads were clear, utility poles and lines appeared to be in place, and the houses I could see seemed perfectly normal—at least from where I sat in the comfort of my car.

But after a few stops and casual conversations, my perspective changed. How deceptive this flood had been, I thought, after hearing how the same homes and businesses that appeared “normal” were in fact vacant and unlivable. During Irene, many were filled with more than four feet of water, enough to saturate walls, wash away appliances, and make homeowners homeless.

In downtown Belhaven, traffic moved along Main Street at a normal pace. Some businesses were closed, but evidence of the flooding was not readily visible. I stopped at O’Neal’s Drug Store, a fixture in downtown Belhaven since its doors first opened in 1932. I was there to check out the metal post in the store that bears the high-water mark from every hurricane since Fran.

“Irene was the highest of all,” said Neal O’Neal, pharmacist and thirdgeneration owner of the store. “This time, we’re moving. It’s really bittersweet, leaving here, but we’re moving to a new higher location up the street.” According to O’Neal, the new store sits nine feet, three inches above sea level—high enough to escape most hurricane floods.

The pharmacy has been swamped by every hurricane to strike the region for the last eighty years, including Hazel, Ione, Donna, Fran, Floyd, Isabel, and Irene. Irene topped them all, destroying over $125,000-worth of store inventory. O’Neal was pragmatic about the move: “I’ve had enough.”

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