Hazel: What If?

Posted October 6, 2006 5:53 p.m. EDT

What would happen if a Category 4 hurricane, like Hazel, tracked further east across the Pamlico Sound, similar to the path taken by Hurricane Isabel in 2003? Coastal geologist Stan Riggs offers perspective.

"It probably would have wiped out the whole coast -- not just on the ocean side -- because of the strong northeast winds coming in along the entire coast. Pamlico Sound is a shallow bay that sloshes just like water in a wash basin, and once it gets going when these storms come in, it pumps that water up into the Neuse River, the Pamlico River.

"New Bern and Washington will commonly have 10-foot storm surges up there with small, small hurricanes. A big hurricane will just pound 4,000 miles of estuarine shoreline out there, which is eroding faster than the ocean shoreline is.

"When Hazel came through, very few people lived on the shores of the estuary. There were a few small fishing villages scattered here and there. Today, as the barrier islands have filled up, more and more people, more and more retirement communities, more and more summer homes are going up along those estuarine shorelines and they're melting away. We have 4,000 miles of that associated with the Pamlico-Albemarle Sound system and they're all eroding at very high rates and that water just pumps in there.... A storm like Hazel coming in across there, it would just be disastrous inland, just disastrous.

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