North Carolina Storms
by Merlin S. Berry
Source: North Carolina's Hurricane History, by Jay Barnes; Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1995
(Courtesy of Jay Barnes, author of: North Carolina's Hurricane History )
[ The numbers in brackets refer to the pages of Mr. Barnes' book. ]
1586, June: North Carolina history begins with a hurricane. Sir Francis Drake dropped in on the Roanoke Hundred colony, the first English attempt at permanent settlement on the North American continent. On June 13, a hurricane (called a "terrible storm" by Governor Ralph Lane) that lasted four days, battered the area and wrecked many of his ships. The colonists were ready to go home, so Drake took them back to England with him.
1588-89(?): So far nobody knows what happened to the Lost Colony. One guess is that a hurricane played some part in their disappearance. 
1667, September: On the 6th, a storm hit southern Virginia, destroying crops and buildings. Most likely it hit what is now northeastern NC first. 
1750, August 18: Created inlets but, if records indicating their locations exist, we don't know about them now.
1752: Destroyed Onslow County seat 
1769, September 6: Smithville, now Southport, through New Bern, where buildings were destroyed. The tide was said to be enormous. New Bern was again struck in 1803, 1815, 1821, 1825
1825, early June: Destructive from Cuba to New England. It hit New Bern, Washington, and drove more than twenty boats ashore at Ocracoke Island 
[Note: A Daily family story is that their house was on a site where a hurricane created an inlet on Hatteras Island, apparently some time in the first half of the nineteenth century.]
1827, August 22-25: Cape Hatteras to Winston-Salem. The Diamond Shoals Lightship broke from its anchor and drifted southward to Portsmouth. Two crew members were lost at sea. [36-37]
1837, October 9: "Racer's Storm" passed over the Banks, causing the loss of the steamship Home, with 90 of its 130 passengers lost at sea. This storm went from the Yucatan Peninsula through the Texas coast, through Gulf states and Florida into Atlantic, before hitting the Banks. 
1837, October or early November: Another one hit Banks.
1842: Two hurricanes struck coastal North Carolina. There was damage from Wilmington to Currituck. The second one was most severe from Portsmouth northward, drowning livestock and washing away houses. It sank three ships - the Congress at Cape Hatteras, the Pioneer at Ocracoke, and the Kilgore at Currituck. 
1846, September 6: One of the slow-moving ones - that really get nerve-wracking. "A remarkable surge of water, driven by continuous northeast winds, pushed far into the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, flooding rivers and creeks for miles inland. Then, as the hurricane passed and its winds rotated to the southwest, this massive expanse of water rushed back toward the sea, overwashing the Outer Banks from west to east. On the night of September 7, a new inlet was created by these events, known today as Hatteras Inlet. The next day, a second inlet was formed just south of Roanoke Island. This inlet soon became navigable and was named Oregon Inlet for the first large boat to pass through it, the Oregon." 
1876, September 17: An Onslow county military camp was inundated and 2 soldiers were drowned, and its effects were felt from Ocracoke to Rocky Mount. Jay Barnes writes: "Although this storm brought many tragedies to the state, it also is credited with bringing a minor miracle to Hyde County." It seems that in the town of Swan Quarter, in the spring of 1876, the local Methodists had decided to build a new church. After selecting a desirable location near the center of town, the congregation was displeased to learn that the land's owner, Sam Sadler, had no interest in giving up his property. Even after their offer was increased, Sadler refused to sell. Determined to construct a new church, the citizens obtained another piece of property on the edge of town, where they built a small frame building. The congregation was satisfied, and their new church was dedicated on September 14 - the same day a major hurricane was churning past Cuba on its way toward the Carolina coast. "As the hurricane spun across the state, winds drove high waters across Pamlico Sound and piled them on the shores of Hyde County. Swan Quarter was flooded with five feet of water. Homes and businesses were deluged and wrecked, and the town's fishing fleet was severely damages. But even with all the destruction around them, the residents of Swan Quarter were most alarmed by an apparent act of divine intervention. "During the storm, rising tides in the street had lifted the small frame church off its foundation and floated it toward the center of town. After the waters receded, residents were astonished to see that the new church had settled down on Sam Sadler's land, just as they had originally planned. Sadler was also impressed: he later signed a deed and gave his land to the Methodist church. Today, a sign stands in front of the Providence Church, reminding visitors that this was the church "Moved by the Hand of God." [41-42]
[Note 1: The original sign was the inspiration of the Rev. Alexander Benners Berry, Jr. (1912-1954), who at the time was minister of the Charles City, Virginia, Methodist Church. He grew up next door to Providence. He held the revival ("protracted meetings") there during the summer of 1952. John Madison Berry, Sr. shaped the wood, and Alexander painted it.]
[Note 2: The original church lot was at what is now Oyster Creek road and Court House Square road. The land was the Jim and Parley Hayes place in the early 1900s. In the 1950s two new buildings went up - the Masonic Lodge, and Joe Linwood Swindell's general store, which now in 1998 is operated by his daughter and her husband, Norma Earle Swindell Cahoon and Hiatt Berry Cahoon.]
1879, August 18: This great storm devastated Carteret County. It had probably made landfall near Wilmington, roared through the Pamlico Sound, and went back into the Atlantic near Norfolk, Virginia. [42-46]
1882: Three of them are tracked on a Barnes map, one of them tracked through the Hyde area, north to Norfolk.
1885, August 25: This one went into South Carolina and well west of Wilmington but arced NE, passing through the Hyde-Tyrrell-Dare area and out to sea.
1899, August 16-18: The Great Hurricane, "often referred to as San Ciriaco, and was one of the most powerful cyclones to move through the western Atlantic in the nineteenth century." Named so by Puerto Ricans where it killed hundreds on Aug 8. It moved through the Dominican Republic, then north Cuba, then east Florida, "and on August 13, the gently curving storm swept past the Fort Lauderdale region. As it followed the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, its continued movement might have carried it east of Cape Hatteras and out of harm's way. But on the morning of August 16, its forward speed (page 49) slowed considerably, its direction changed to the northwest, and it increased its strength as it moved toward Cape Lookout." Hit Carteret banks 17th, pretty well wiping out houses of Diamond City and Shackleford. Names of mullet fishermen who lost lives are listed including James Willis, fleeing Swan Island. [49-50] 'Ocracoke Island was also hard hit by San Ciriaco. The August 21 edition of the Washington Gazette reported: "the whole island of Ocracoke is a complete wreck as a result of the fierce storm which swept the entire coast of North Carolina, leaving ruin and disaster in its path....Thirty-three homes were destroyed and two churches were wrecked. Practically every house on the island was damaged to some extent.' 
1904, Nov 13: Passed near Hatteras. "At New Inlet the storm surge swept away the Life-Saving Station, and four crewmen drowned. Four more lives were lost in the wreck of the Missouri, a schooner that went down near Washington, North Carolina. Several lives were lost when a fishing lodge on Hatteras Island was swept away by the tides, and eight more people drowned when a yacht sank in Pamlico Sound. As the hurricane moved past the coast, a large cold-air mass was drawn into the cyclone's circulation, and an early snow fell across much of the state." 
1913, September 3: This one crossed over Core Banks and through the Pamlico Sound inland to south of Raleigh. Winds were only up to 74 mph, but it caused floods by the winds pushing sound water inland. The water was nine feet above normal high at New Bern; washed away a railroad bridge there. At Washington it was ten feet above normal, flooding to Third street, which is the fourth street from the Pamlico River. "There was so much water on Main Street that 'speed boats were coming and going' most of the following day. The Norfolk and Southern trestle, the Washington and Vandemere trestle, and the old county bridge were all washed away and had to be rebuilt the year following the storm." [64-65]
[Note 1: This storm caused the water to rise about three feet deep in Swan Quarter village. This determined John Madison Berry, Sr. and his wife, Mamie Weston Brothers Berry, to build their house way up off the ground. They had just received the deed to the property on August 22. The house was completed in 1915, and the eight inch cypress sills sat three feet off the ground, but most of the base was left open, so the waters could flow on through and not take away the foundation pillars. (It was later closed in on 3 sides of the house.) The waters never rose into that house, though hurricane Ione came close on Monday, September 19, 1955. Most folks still built their houses low to ground, which was typical, and lived to see them flooded.
[Note 2: The John Robert Jordan Cemetery in Fairfield Township: "Cemetery originally had cedar post markers; totally destroyed in hurricane about 1913..." This is a note on page 130 in "In Memory Of...: An Index to Hyde County Cemeteries," by Martha Rebecca Swindell and Romulus Sanderson Spencer, Jr. [Hyde History, Inc.: Fairfield, N. C., 1973]
1916, July 14-16: This one did not affect NE North Carolina. I list it here because it was mentioned by a resident of Swan Quarter at the time. It came ashore in South Carolina but moved northwest into western North Carolina on the 15th into the southern Appalachians. The heaviest rainfall was recorded at Altapass (SE of Spruce Pine) - 22.22 inches in 24 hours ending at 2 P.M. on the 16th - establishing a record for the United States. The winds were not hurricane strength when they entered NC. "No significant damage occurred along the North Carolina coast."  Charles Clary Brothers diary: Wednesday, July 19, 1916, writing in Swan Quarter: "Rainy, today, and it is needed. Torrential rain and floods in the western part of our State: loss of property and damage to crops, reaches into the millions. Railway bridges washed away; mills destroyed, several lives lost, and traffic, on many lines, suspended: some trains marooned; and suffering is predicted. God help them."
1933, August 22-23: It passed east of Ocracoke just after midnight; then curved northward to Norfolk. Only 64 mile wind speed at Hatteras; but, as often with "mild" hurricanes, it was the flooding that caused a lot of damage. [67-68]
1933, Sep 15-16: Pamlico Sound was hit; northeast winds brought massive water surges to the southwest, flooding basins of Pamlico and Neuse rivers, causing severe damage from Carteret County and north. On Ocracoke, at the Green Island Hunt Club, the occupants survived the flood by climbing to the roof. [68-73]
[Note: 'An unusual phenomenon occurred along the northern banks of the Albemarle Sound when the water was "blown away" to the lowest level ever recorded for that region.'  Floods killed 21.
1936, September 18: Ninety mile winds at Manteo as the eye of the storm stayed off the coast; and flood waters did much damage on Hatteras Island. NE winds eroded beaches - 35 feet lost at Nags Head. Flooding at Hatteras contaminated fresh water, of course, cisterns, outhouses toppled.
1944, September 14: This came to be known as the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944. As often has happened, the ocean and the sound met on the Outer Banks. The barometric pressure at Cape Hatteras read 27.97 inches, the lowest ever recorded at that site. Avon experienced severe damage to 96 of the 115 dwellings. [76-77]
1953, August 13: Barbara came in between Morehead City and Ocracoke, and went out to sea near the North Carolina-Virginia line. It was listed as a mild one, but it nevertheless blew down lots of trees in the Swan Quarter area, many of the fine old trees in yards of houses along Main Street. One person noted: "It seems that this wind is not the hardest I remember but it seems as if it did the most damage of any I recall."
1954, August 30: Carol went east of Cape Hatteras and did its major damage in New England. One resident wrote: "No trees were blown over, nor any other damage committed, except for a few limbs breaking out of the big pecan tree next to the garden."
1954, September 10: Edna stayed east of the Banks and caused little damage. In Swan Quarter, it was only noticeable in the form of an all-day rain.
1954, October 15 Hazel, one of the most disastrous hurricanes in United States history, spared the northeast coast of North Carolina the worst of its force. But there was wind and flooding. It rose about two feet in Swan Quarter. "We are blest to what some places are, tide went in lots of homes here, and blew down six trees in cousin Ab's yard. That will be a bare looking place...." (Letter of Mrs. Ora Benson Berry. Ab was Alexander Benners Berry, Sr., whose house is still on Main Street across Church Street from Providence Methodist Church.)
1955, August 12: Connie set teeth on edge by not coming ashore in a normal slow-moving path and getting it over with. She wobbled around in the Atlantic and then came ashore in Carteret County, then took a very leisurely trip through the state, which meant saturating rains and high tides. That set it up for bigger problems when new avalanches came two more times within 40 days and 40 nights. A personal account: Camp Don Lee, a summer camp of the Methodist Church, was on the north shore of the Neuse River, near Arapahoe. At the time, Camp Caroline down the road a bit was being used for younger campers. If memory serves, over a hundred campers were at each place, with their leaders, mostly college students. We were in a quandary as Connie sat out there not making up its mind what to do. Safety first, of course, especially when you have all those children in your care. Concerned parents were already calling, and many made their way down to take their children home. The decision was made to evacuate to New Bern. The Centenary Methodist Church would be the quarters from August 9 until the 12th. The Presbyterian Church nearby permitted some use of its facilities. Finally, on a hot and steamy morning after Connie with her winds and tides had passed, we all could leave, thankful that no misfortune befell us beyond the inconveniences of unusual sleeping quarters and makeshift eating arrangements.
1955, August 17: Diane diminished considerably when it came ashore the high being 50 mph at Hatteras. Belhaven had three feet of water in stores. "Diane's slow movement to the northwest caused prolonged winds to push salt water out of Pamlico Sound and into the farms and fields of the east."  Much farm land in Hyde County was worthless for years.
1955, September 19: Ione was one for the records. Here are some excerpts from the diary of one who experienced it in Swan Quarter, Hyde County: Sunday, Sept. 18, 1955: It has been cloudy all day, in the morning no rain but increasing winds and rains throughout the day. Unusual winds did not come until after 2:00 or 3:00 o'clock. The hurricane warning is up from Cape Hatteras to the Virginia capes. It is by far the most dangerous hurricane in several years, with winds up to 125 m.p.h reaching out 60 to 80 miles.
Tonight about 6:00 I went to put the car on high ground at Cousin Ab's place up the road. I stopped by the Berry Co. And helped Cousin Dan, Pratt, Edward Pegram and Charlie get things. While waiting for them to carry the truck to Mr. Elmo's, I talked to Audrey at their place. Pratt got me after I put the car up and I rode on to Mr. Harry Swindell's, where they carried the ambulance, in order to be able to get out to the hospitals if need be.
About 9:30 the winds became strong and rain has been coming fast. Reports say southern coastal Carolina will have it easier than in the last two because this one is passing to the east, giving them north winds which are keeping the tide from coming high. However, for us in the north it is not so bright. The center is to hit around Cape Hatteras not long after midnight.
Monday, September 19 1955: 5:00 A.M.: Since about 11:00 the wind has been almost constantly blowing at a great rate and force. The lights went out at 10:50. The rain has washed in in great amount around the windows on the direct east side, that is, the front of the house. It is the first time since Barbara of 1953 that it has done so. When I came down about 5:30 a.m. the tide had risen fast and was on the first back doorstep. About 8:45 it reached highest and is now slowly receding.
Now, at 10:30 a.m., the wind has dropped in intensity very little since early morning; it continues in gusts. The wind has been coming, all the time, from the east-north-east. This does not normally bring in a heavy tide, having little effect; but this one is doing it. If the wind should shift to the south-east we may have a real problem. However, that seems to me to be improbable, since the storm is now to our north or northeast. This should pull the wind around to the north more or hold it where it is. I can see whitecaps on the water now in open places. The wind is still forceful.
4:30 P.M. The water began coming back in about 2:00 or 2:30 and rose rapidly. Daddy and I got the chickens out of the little chicken house. About the time I was finishing the house floated off. Our back steps floated off. Mrs. Ora saw a snake on the back yard near the door - black and white around. It is the highest tide by far that I have ever seen. It was, at 4:30, washing about halfway up on our porch and was standing even with them. We began to get the rug ready to take up, but now the water has gone down about 6 inches. The wind has moved to the west now. Its movement from east to southeast was the cause of the tide's coming in suddenly this evening.
The wind continues to blow hard and rain is still falling. However, the water level is now below the weatherboarding on the garage, whereas at its height it was on the board below the window sill on this side of the garage. I heard this morning that the Lake Causeway has washed completely out in some places to the center line. This of course would be on the east or New Holland side. The report also was that the highway U.S. 264 has been closed between Pantego and Leechville and 94 between the Lake and Columbia. Belhaven is said to have been in 5 feet of water in the morning. Ahoskie was hit by this one, too. The Diamond Shoals lightship is said to have been broken loose.
3:00 a.m.: All the tide is gone. It is now blowing and raining. This makes about 29 1/2 hrs. of it.
8:45: The wind has just died down to a moderate blow now, after blowing hard from 9: 30 Sunday night until 7:00 this morning - about 46 1/2 hrs, almost two days, the likes of which do not often occur in one man's lifetime. The rain has also been heavy.
The water (flood water) stood from 5:15 A.M. Monday until about 11:00 p.m. of the night. It makes a stand of about 17 3/4 hrs., probably a record. The wind got calm about 8:00 or 8:30. The water was still in the back yard. We took the mats out of the car to dry.
10:30 P.M.: The hurricane has now gone far out to sea, bypassing the coast north of N.C.
1958, Sep 27: Helene stayed off-shore and passed well east of Cape Hatteras. We have not seen any reports of what happened in our part of the state, but there must have been some effects.
1960, Sep 11: Donna moved out of the Gulf of Mexico back into the Atlantic and came up the coast. It came inland near Topsail Island, then moved through Carteret, Pamlico Hyde, and Tyrrell counties, across the Albermarle Sound, slamming into Elizabeth City. Damage was severe from both wind and water. "The Outer Banks were struck with the full fury of Donna..." "In Washington, Edenton, Swan Quarter, and Elizabeth City, fallen trees and toppled power lines were reported, as well as water damage. More than seventy miles of power lines were downed north of Swan Quarter." In a letter of Mrs. Ora Benson Berry to her stepson, away in school at UNC: "You asked about the hurricane, it was the worst one I have ever known, and the older people say it was the worst one they have ever seen. It really blew trees down in Swan Quarter, and the tide was higher than it was in the other storms we had a few years ago. It didn't come in the house, but we took the carpets up.... Blew 3 windows out for Cousin Maude. The paper said it struck Swan Quarter harder than any other place in the county. I want to tell you it was a bad time." She reports that of course the tide water got in the cistern water. This means all the water must taken out, the cistern floor and walls washed down with clean water, and that rain must be prayed for. Until it does, one is dependant on folks who lived farther inland and still had good water.
1971, September 30: Ginger brought 70 mph gusts to Cape Hatteras, and tides 5 to 7 feet above normal along the Pamlico Sound banks. The storms was a slow mover, which meant heavy rainfall More than 10 inches were reported at Bayboro, Belhaven, Aurora, and Roanoke Island. Wind and rain again meant the loss of corn and soy bean crops.
1972, June 20-21: Agnes went far inland and created havoc in the Piedmont. Still, it came eastward, going out to sea between the Pamlico and the Albemarle sounds, bringing heavy winds. As always happens, some people ignore the warnings. Some happy campers on the Outer Banks south of Oriental Inlet quickly became unhappily frantic, in the effort to get their tents down and to move to safer quarters. Some tents were left to the elements. Ignoring warnings about hurricanes can lead to more serious consequences than a lost tent.
1979, Sep 5: David went through the Piedmont but still the tides in some parts of the Pamlico Sound reached seven feet.
1984, Sep 9-14: Diana came ashore near Southport, and spent most it s forces before reaching the Pamlico area and going out to sea.
1985, Sep 26-27: Gloria threatened to become one of the great hurricanes. Most Ocracoke residents left, taking the ferry to Swan Quarter on the mainland. But Gloria turned more northward and passed over Hatteras Island early on the 27th, went back into the Atlantic around Nags Head, and on to do damage on Long Island, NY and the New England states. In NC it did relatively little damage. Four feet of water flooded Manteo.
1986, August 17-18: Charley did little damage. Gusts up to 80 mph were recorded in Hyde county and along the northern Outer Banks.
1989, Sep 21-22: Hugo came inland in South Carolina near Charleston, and was one of the most destructive in United States history. But its fury was mainly spent inland well into the Piedmont and the mountains. The northern coast of North Carolina was spared the brunt of this one. 
1993, August 31: Emily's eye stayed 13 miles east of Hatteras, with the highest winds staying east, while Hatteras Island got winds up to 92 mph and water waist deep. It did extensive damage to property. 
List of North Carolina Hurricanes
Atlantic Hurricanes, By Year (1886-1996)
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