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North Carolina’s hurricane risk

Why is North Carolina so much at risk from hurricanes? In addition to its placement along the country’s east coast, it also has a unique topography that makes part of the state more likely to feel the impact of such storms.

North Carolina map


The Hurricane risk in North Carolina

While North Carolina does not have many hurricanes that actually reach land, the state is at high risk even from the impact of a hurricane passing nearby, mainly because how the land lies.

On the NC coastline map above, notice that there is a thin strip of islands to the far right. That is the Outer Banks, while the rest of the coast is the Inner Banks. When a hurricane even skirts along the Outer Banks, there is sure to be damage. Jutting so far out in the ocean, it is no wonder that the Outer Banks is at high risk from hurricanes — but what of the rest of the state?

When a hurricane comes up through the middle, between the Inner and Outer banks, the entire state feels some sort of impact. Typically, tropical force winds can be felt all the way to the state capital of Raleigh.

The western part of the state is at a much lower risk from hurricanes. This area is not immune to hurricane impact, but it is rare for that area to be too affected.

Historic North Carolina hurricanes

  • Hurricane Hazel battered North Carolina in 1954, and was considered to be the deadliest and most costly hurricane in history at that time. Hazel made landfall between the North and South Carolina borders as a Category 4 storm. The recorded wind speed in Raleigh (towards the middle of the state) was 120 mph, with gusts to 140 mph. Hazel killed 19 North Carolinians, and injured hundreds more — and destroyed thousands of homes.
  • Hurricane Fran accosted North Carolina in September of 1996. This storm came ashore at the mouth of the Cape Fear River below Wilmington, which is why the state received damage from end to end. Once Fran traveled up to Cape Fear, she was able to maintain strength of a Category 3 hurricane and moved at a fairly slow pace. Every area that was within a few hundred miles from Cape Fear on either side felt Fran’s impact. This one’s damaging winds even reached Charlotte, which was a shock for the people living there! Flooding and wind damage were far-reaching — but amazingly enough, Fran claimed only six lives.
  • Hurricane Isabel ravaged North Carolina, and is definitely the most remembered NC storm in recent history, and the damage can still be seen in parts of the state. This storm produced heavy damage and was the worst in Dare County, where flooding from wave surges and high winds destroyed hundreds of homes. On the inland, the worst damage was flooding. This flooding left thousands of people displaced as their homes were totally destroyed and all belongings lost.
  • Hurricane Irene was one of the most recent to graze North Carolina, in August 2011. Damage inland was minimal but the Outer Banks once again got crushed. Irene came ashore near Hatteras Island as a Category 2 hurricane, and left most of the coast without power — plus created a brand new inlet for the Outer Banks.

More about North Carolina

Hurricane preparedness and safety

North Carolina’s best summer activities for families

Pirate Hunt boat tour off the North Carolina coast

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