NC hurricanes spread death, destruction from coast to mountains
Posted August 1, 2011
Updated July 31, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Destructive hurricanes are infamous for tearing up the North Carolina coast, but even smaller, less powerful storms are capable of bringing death, flooding and damage far inland.
Residents of central and eastern North Carolina have learned that just from storms over the past dozen years.
Most recently, in 2011, Hurricane Irene brushed the coast, dumping heavy rains and causing significant sound-side flooding. The Category 1 storm also sliced N.C. Highway 12 on the Outer Banks into several pieces.
Overall, Irene caused more than $1.2 billion in damage to more than one-third of the state's 100 counties.
Twelve years earlier, Dennis was just a tropical storm when it landed north of Cape Lookout on Sept. 5, 1999, but it hung together and took an erratic, approximately 265-mile track across eastern North Carolina, the Triangle and the Triad before going north into Virginia.
Dennis dropped between 3 and 10 inches of rain, breaking a prolonged dry spell. That saturated the ground and filled rivers – doing the dirty work for Hurricane Floyd, which came ashore 10 days later, dropped rain for 60 hours and became the state's most destructive storm.
Tropical Storm Alberto arrived near Laurinburg on June 14, 2006, after making landfall in Florida and trekking across Georgia and South Carolina. It still managed to be a killer. An 8-year-old Franklin County boy chased a ball into a flooded drainage system and drowned.
Alberto dumped 7.16 inches of rain in Raleigh, prompting 47 water rescues in Wake County. Crabtree Creek rose to 23.77 feet and forced Crabtree Valley Mall to close.
Tropical Storm Hanna left flooding as its legacy. The storm made landfall at Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Sept. 6, 2008, then moved across North Carolina, hooking up with the Interstate 95 corridor near Wilson.
Hanna forced people to evacuate from their homes as far inland as the Triangle. Residents of southeast Raleigh had to leave their homes along Rose Lane.
In the Moore County town of Vass, floodwaters washed out a 10-foot-wide chunk of Autumn Drive, which was the only road in and out of the Riverbend neighborhood.
Inland flooding storms
Some of the deadliest storms to ever strike North Carolina – including the top two killers – took lives far away from the coast.
Hurricane Floyd killed 52 people in North Carolina, according to the count by the Office of the State Chief Medical Examiner. Many victims died in their cars, trying to navigate flooded roads, while others perished in their homes, caught off guard by the flooding.
Floyd was North Carolina's biggest killer of the 20th century but not of all time.
That dubious honor belongs to the Hurricane of September 1883. This unnamed storm killed 53 people in North Carolina and 156 people across the United States.
The storm came ashore near Sunset Beach, along the South Carolina border, and trekked nearly straight north across the state. It passed through Clinton in Sampson County and Spring Hope in Nash County.
Deadliest N.C. hurricanes
Along with death, hurricanes have brought destruction far away from the Atlantic coast – even into the western mountains.
Of the five most destructive hurricanes in North Carolina history, Floyd and Donna followed a path along the coast or in the coastal plain. Floyd, however, spread more than $7 billion worth of damage throughout eastern North Carolina, inundating towns as far west as Rocky Mount.
Hurricane Fran, which ranks as the state's second-most destructive hurricane, came ashore near Bald Head Island on Sept. 6, 1996, and continued northwest across the state, coming straight through the Triangle.
Fran earned the nickname "Paul Bunyan of North Carolina," felling thousands of trees with its strong winds. Damage was so widespread that a state of emergency was declared in all 100 counties of North Carolina – the first time in state history.
Hurricane Hazel came ashore with freakish ferocity right at the South Carolina border in October 1954 and kept going nearly straight north, through Smithfield, Zebulon and Louisburg.
As far inland as Goldsboro and Kinston, Hazel whipped up 120 mph winds. The storm still had hurricane-strength winds when it roared through Raleigh.
Hazel was nicknamed "the Bulldozer" and ranks as the state's third-most destructive storm.
No. 5 on that list, Hurricane Hugo didn't come anywhere near the coast in September 1989. Instead, Hugo whalloped Charlotte, then swung west through the mountains, passing through Boone.
Hugo struck Charlotte with 85 mph winds and toppled an estimated 100,000 trees, including many stately oaks more than 70 years old. It dumped 7 inches of rain on Boone.
Most destructive N.C. hurricanes
Blue = tropical storm
Yellow = category 1
Orange = category 2
Red = category 3