Editorial: Prepare For A Storm: Don't Wait Until The Last Minute

By / Editorials / Tuesday, 05 September 2017 04:00

Managing Editor

For those who moved here since the hurricanes of the 1990's, you likely have not experienced a true "hurricane".

We've had tropical storms and some minor hurricanes in comparison to Fran, Bertha andBonnie and Floyd of the late 1990's or even Hazel in 1954.

Now Irma is moving across the Atlantic with winds reaching 185+ miles per hour. That's a category five storm. At press time Tuesday night it's still too early to tell with certainty where Irma will make landfall, but the National Hurricane Center says it's the strongest storm they've ever recorded in the Atlantic. So strong that it was registering on  seismometers in the Caribbean that are used to detect earthquakes.

You've heard and read about the need to prepare for a storm and evacuation. You've seen media coverage of storms over the years. But when the time comes and you're pondering on whether to ride out a storm or evacuate, take a look at the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale from the National Hurricane Center. And remember, most people who have experienced storms in our area over the years always refer to Fran as one of the worst. It was a category 3 and it shut down Pleasure Island for months.

The scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures. In the western North Pacific, the term "super typhoon" is used for tropical cyclones with sustained winds exceeding 150 mph.

Category: 1 : 74-95 mph : Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
Category: 2 : 96-110 mph : Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
Category: 3 (major) :111-129 mph : Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
Category: 4 (major) : 130-156 mph : Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Category: 5 : (major) : 157 mph or higher : Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Long time residents who experienced the storms of the late 1990's know a storm like Matthew in 2016 could be dangerous. Even if you don't experience wind or flood damage, it can take days before services are restored. In the case of Fran in 1996, it took weeks. Even longer to return to normal daily life.

If an evacuation is called for, heed that advice. Pack up important documents, the pets, and other valuables and take a trip to visit family and friends inland.

For those who have transplanted to our fine coastal area over the last 20 years, Fran, Bonnie, Bertha and Floyd should be your benchmark storms. You can look up video footage on youtube.com to get a better idea of what a real storm can bring (and take away) from our area.

Over the last 20 years since Fran we've seen a lot storms like Hurricane Irene in 2011 (74mph winds with storm surge of 2 to 3 feet) or Hurricane Ernesto in 2006 (62mph gusts - 2 to 3 feet storm surge at beaches).

Now compare that to the storms of the 1990's.

For Hurricane Fran on September 5th 1996, according to the National Weather Service, "Fran was the second of four strong hurricanes to strike Southeastern North Carolina during the mid to late 1990s.  In July 1996 Hurricane Bertha hit the area hard.  Fran reopened Bertha's wounds and produced substantial wind damage well inland across Eastern North Carolina.  In the same way that residents of Columbia and Charlotte will always remember Hurricane Hugo's devastating winds, Raleigh (and most inland eastern North Carolina) citizens think of Fran when discussing what impacts an inland hurricane can bring."

Fran gradually built to a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph while about 400 miles off the Florida east coast and made landfall near Southport on September 5th with 115 mph winds and a total storm tide as high as 11 feet at Wrightsville Beach and 12 feet on Bald Head Island.

According to the NWS, "At the Wilmington airport winds gusted to 86 mph, but gusts to 105 mph were measured at the State Port office along the Cape Fear River. The National Hurricane Center received unofficial reports of gusts to 125 mph at Wrightsville Beach and 137 mph along Hewlett's Creek in Wilmington. These unofficial readings were from instruments mounted at non-standard heights very close to rooflines and were not deemed accurate. Multiple reports of gusts 73-77 mph were received from the coast of Horry County, SC.  Storm total rainfall in Wilmington was 5.23 inches which includes 0.75 inches that fell on September 4th."

Fran killed 22 people and produced over $1.6 billion in insured property damage in the United States, the vast majority of that in North Carolina.

New Hanover County officials estimated Fran generated four times as much storm debris as Bertha did.  Johnnie Mercer's pier on Wrightsville Beach was destroyed, and the Oceanic Restaurant's pier lost about one-third of its length.  In Kure Beach, Bertha destroyed the fishing pier, then Fran damaged the tackle shop that remained.

The Town of Carolina Beach later relocated their police and fire departments from the old 1930's era Town Hall across from the Town's Municipal Marina on Carl Winner Drive to it's current location on North Lake Park Blvd. It had been repeatedly flooded over the years.

According to the NWS, "Storm surge flooding in Carolina Beach reached six feet across Lake Park Blvd, flooding many businesses and the town fire station.  Three feet of sand was left behind on parts of Carolina Beach Ave.  The Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, heavily damaged during Hurricane Bertha earlier in the summer, was completely destroyed along with the restaurant" and, "At Kure Beach part of Atlantic Avenue was undermined by the storm surge and impassible after the storm.  

The portion of Kure Beach Pier that survived Bertha was destroyed.  At least 200 homes were damaged with about 25 beach front homes destroyed in the south part of town along Fort Fisher Blvd. Granted, our beaches and dunes are more healthy now and living on the coast comes with an occasional degree of risk from such storms, but remember that small storms like Colin are just that, small storms.

Even though we haven't experienced a major storm in over 20 years, it's always prudent to prepare for the worst, which is rare, and enjoy one of the best places to live on earth.
Prepare by checking on your insurance coverage, gathering up important documents and making list of important items you want to take if an evacuation order is issued. Prepare with items such as water, canned foods, first aid kit, flash lights and other essentials.


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