Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hurricane History

The story of Pine Knoll Shores would not be complete without a discussion of tropical storms. In fairly recent history, meteorologists have established June 1 to November 30 as hurricane season on the east coast. However, over the years, actual tropical events coming within 75 miles of Bogue Banks have fallen into periods of activity and periods of inactivity. The following discussion does not include nor’easters or general low-pressure periods that bring heavy rains, often with thunder and lightning. It begins with a definition of terms.

In the Indian Ocean, they are called Cyclones. In the Pacific, they are referred to as Typhoons. Here on the shores of the Atlantic, we call them hurricanes. To a professional meteorologist, they are all tropical cyclones.

A tropical cyclone is a warm-core, low-pressure system producing high winds that spiral counter-clockwise (in the northern hemisphere) and inward, with the highest winds near the center of circulation . . . and rain bands spiraling toward the center. These warm-core storms typically form over the tropical and subtropical oceans and extract their energy from the heat content of the oceans.[i]

North Carolina ranks third, after Florida and Texas, in the number of hurricane strikes since 1899 (Louisiana and North Carolina often alternate between third and fourth). Florida has had far more hurricanes than any other state—more than twice as many landfalls as North Carolina since 1899.[ii]

The impact of a hurricane is a function of several conditions. Wind speed is the most commonly applied indicator of a hurricane’s strength. Wind speed is broken into categories in the Saffir-Simpson Scale based on the severity of the damage expected: Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, and five levels of hurricanes.

Saffir-Simpson Scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Other factors come into play in determining the severity of a storm’s impact:
         Position of the storm track relative to your location
         Speed of the storm along its track – forward speed
         Diameter of storm
         Weather preceding the storm, particularly rainfall
         Tidal cycle and the associated storm surge
         Slope of the sea floor, which impacts the storm surge

Storms are no longer a surprise. The science of hurricane forecasting and public communication of alerts are constantly improving. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the National Weather Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides a database and forecasts for hurricanes affecting the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean coasts of the United States. Additionally many other countries, some Universities, and several private companies provide hurricane projections.

Before NHC, folklore provided forecasts based on approaching cloud formations, sky color, and the action of livestock. Today’s forecasts are the product of massive amounts of data entered into complex mathematical equations (algorithms), which are then solved thousands of times with one variable changed each time. All this is done on super computers with data gathered from dozens of specialized weather satellites, ocean and land based monitors, and aircraft flying directly into storms. Each forecasting entity has developed one or more of its own algorithms that attempt to model the impact and relationship of the multiple variables. The result of all this work is depicted on what is commonly called a “spaghetti chart.” Each line represents results from a separate forecasting model.

Coastal Carolina Historic Accounts 
Peter Carteret, who served as governor from 1670 to 1672, reported that in 1667 a hurricane destroyed both corn and tobacco crops and blew down roofs. In 1668, first drought and then torrential rains ruined crops. Another hurricane struck in 1669, which, according to Carteret, destroyed what tobacco was out and most of the corn. The following year, a 24- hour hurricane blew down trees, houses and barns.[iii]

Long-time resident Neal Willis shares her memory of storms:
The storm of 1933 was unexpected and did extensive damage in Beaufort, Merrimon and South River. Hazel, the first major hurricane since the 1933 event, hit in October 1954 [with] no real warning. [F]lags were raise[d] on towers in Morehead and Beaufort indicating different storm conditions. The telegraph office would post daily weather bulletins on their windows. I don’t remember radio stations broadcasting weather bulletins.[iv]

History of Hurricanes on Bogue Banks

An extensive historical data collection is available on the NOAA website.[v] It permits the user to view the historical material from 1842 through 2014 in many different ways. Using that source, I’ve created the following charts with a focus on Pine Knoll Shores.

The above chart shows the tracts of all the tropical cyclone events or tropical depressions through Category 5 in the Atlantic basin during the past 173 years. The total storms depicted number 1,654, most originating as a depression off the west coast of Africa. 

The figure below shows only those tropical storms that passed within 75 miles of our town.

During the past 173 years, 102 storms have come within 75 miles of PKS.

The above chart eliminates tropical depressions and tropical storms with winds less than 73 mph, leaving 42 Category 1 through Category 5 storms. Of the 1,654 storms that rolled off the west coast of Africa, only 2.5 percent resulted in a hurricane that came within 75 mile of Pine Knoll Shores. Within that circle there are NO Category 5 storms and only one Category 4—Helene in 1958, which passed 25 miles to the southeast.

The above chart shows the 17 storms that came within 25 miles of PKS. The color of some of the tracks change, indicating the strength of the storm decreased as it moved by.

The eye of one storm passed directly over Pine Knoll Shores! That was a Category 1 event that passed over the island on August 23, 1918. In Alice Hoffman’s unpublished autobiography, she mentions severe weather the summer after she purchased her property on the banks. She does not always get her dates exactly right, but lists, “…the hurricane in the summer of 1917, the blizzard that year at Christmas, & the terrific thunderstorm the previous year.”

Other hurricanes that crossed Bogue Banks are as follows:

         Unnamed – August 18, 1879, Cat 2
         Unnamed – July 31, 1901, Cat 1
         Ione – September 19, 1955, Cat 1
         Donna – September 12, 1960, Cat 2
         Ginger – October 1, 1971, Cat 1

The period from 1987 through 1995 was quiet with no storms impacting Bogue Banks. The last half of the 1990s was the most active period:

Bertha – July 1996 — Cat 2 passed 60 miles to the west with 90 mph winds
Fran – September 1996, Cat 3 passed over Cape Fear with 100 mph winds
Josephine – October 1996, TD passed 60 miles to the NW with 45 mph winds
Bonnie – August 1998, Cat 2 passed 30 miles to WNW with winds of 85 mph
Dennis – August 1999, Cat 2 passed 95 miles to the S with 90 mph winds
Floyd – September 1999, Cat 3 passed 40 miles to the NW with 105 mph winds
Isabel – September 2003, Cat 2 passed 45 miles to the ENE with 95   mph winds,
Alex – August 2004, Cat 2 passed 50 miles to SE with 85 mph winds
Ophelia – September 2005, Cat 1 passed 45 miles to the SSE with 45 mph winds
Irene – August 2011, Cat 1 passed 15 miles to the East with 75 mph winds
Arthur – July 2014, Cat 1 passed 15 miles to the East with 75 mph winds

Tropical Storms

This chart removes all the hurricanes H1-H5 and presents the tracks of the 20 Tropical Storms (TS – 39 to 73 mph) that crossed the 25-mile circle during the 173-year period. The events during recent times, since storms have been given names, are listed below:

         1964  – Dora, August 31
         1971  – Doria, August 27 direct path over Pine Knoll Shores
         1981  – Dennis, August 20
         1985 – Kate, November 22
1996 – Josephine, October 1996 (After Hurricanes Bertha and Fran, so caused lots of problems.)
         1999 – Dennis, August 20
2007 – Gabrielle, September 9

Patterns, though unpredictable, are historically evident. The first home was sold in what is now Pine Knoll Shores in 1958, the year of Hurricane Helene. The decade of the 60s was relatively quiet, with only two named storms within 75 miles, one Category 2 hurricane and one much smaller tropical event. In the next two decades, there were no hurricanes and only two tropical storms. The mid-90s began a period of considerably more activity, with a series of severe storms. After Isabel in 2003, the named storms that have come close to Pine Knoll Shores through 2015 have been fewer and much less severe.

Time Distribution

For the past 173 years, the peak of the Pine Knoll Shores hurricane season has fallen between mid August and mid-September. The earliest date for a storm was May 29, 1908, a Category 1 event that passed 35 miles to the southeast. The latest occurred on November 2, 1861, a Category 1 storm that passed 15 miles to the north.

Summary and Mitigating Factors

Pine Knoll Shores has clear exposure to potential hurricane damage. The beach to the south faces directly on the Atlantic Ocean. The shore on the north borders Bogue Sound. However, this part of Bogue Banks also has a few natural factors that help to mitigate the potential damage. Protection is offered by natural geographic/geological landforms and native flora. With s southern exposure to the Atlantic, Bogue Banks is geographically more protected than northern Outer Banks, which juts far into the Atlantic.

The first line of defense along the oceanfront is the natural line of dunes. In most places, the dunes offer high ground and are backed by ridgelines of past frontal dunes. These dunes prevent over-wash during storm surges, as has happened in the past on Bogue Banks, both to the east and west of Pine Knoll Shores. During the 1996 hurricane season PKS was visited by Bertha, Fran, and tropical storm Josephine, and as a result, lost significant dune frontage, in places up to 20 or 30 feet. Undermining and structural damage was sustained at a number of buildings and beach access stairs. The Iron Steamer Pier lost about 100 feet.

On the oceanfront, sea oats and fences help build the dune back toward where they are held in place by a jumble of vegetative growth called the dune thicket. These thickets, that in their undisturbed condition are nearly impenetrable, slow the wind velocity, which causes wind-borne sand to fall out and further build the dune structure. The thickets are composed of various types of trees, scrubs, grasses, and vines, the roots of which lock the sand in-place and help prevent wind and water erosion.
Pine Knoll Shores 2015
Moving back from the oceanfront, this part of Bogue Banks has one of the finest maritime forests on the east coast. This multi-specie tree canopy, along with associated understory species, provides protection for structures within the forest. Numerous published studies have found a 30% or larger reduction in wind speed attributable to a dense stand of trees. Winds of 90 mph at the shore would be reduced to 63 mph mid-island.

The other element that mitigates a storm’s impact here is the geology of the island—sand. Heavy rains typically accompany tropical cyclones regardless of the underlying wind strength of the storm. The depth of sand that makes up the banks allows rapid draining of rain accumulation, lessening the impact of flooding and runoff erosion that is so destructive on the mainland.

Hurricanes are a part of living anywhere on the east coast of the US. Taking precautions and getting prepared when a storm is in the forecast are always wise steps. Each individual’s circumstances will dictate the form and extent of that preparation[vi]. In addition to preparing for a specific event, a long-term strategy is also needed. The natural elements, dunes, dune thickets, and the maritime forests, which protect and renew the island, are critical for its survival and our continued ability to live here safely and enjoy our home.

Post Author: Walt Zaenker
To contact the author or the History Committee email

[i] NC State University, State Climate Office of North Carolina,
[ii] Jay Barnes on Hurricanes,
[iii] Natives & Newcomers – The Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770, by Elizabeth A. Fenn and Peter H. Wood. 1983, The University of North Carolina Press
[iv] Beaufort by the Sea, Neal Willis, Seaside Publications, Aug 2000
[vi] Hurricane Preparedness – Be Ready,