65 Year Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel Landfall in North Carolina
[Flooding in Morehead City from Hurricane Hazel. From NOAA]
65 years ago, Hurricane Hazel made landfall in North Carolina, the strongest storm on record to strike the coast. The category 4 storm struck near Calabash, North Carolina, on October 14th, 1954 with 130 mph winds. The storm killed at least 469 people in Haiti before making landfall in the US, causing 95 fatalities. As a result of the high death toll and the damage caused by Hazel, its name was retired from use for North Atlantic hurricanes.
At 11 a.m. EDT on October 14, 1954, The U.S. Weather Bureau (precursor to the National Weather Service) issued a warning for the Carolinas, although the forecasters felt the center of Hazel would remain offshore and weaken. Instead the hurricane took a northwest turn and headed toward land. Forecasts were updated to indicate landfall near the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Massive evacuations were ordered along the Carolina coastal regions at this time.
[Path of Hurricane Hazel, October 14-15, 1954]
As landfall occurred halfway between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, the hurricane brought a storm surge of over 18 feet to a large area of the North Carolina coastline, producing severe coastal damage. Intensifying the damage was the fact that the hurricane coincided with the highest lunar tide of the year. Brunswick County suffered the heaviest damage, where most coastal dwellings were either completely destroyed or severely damaged. For example, in Long Beach, North Carolina, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing. As a result of the high storm surge, the low-lying sandy barrier islands were completely flooded. The official report from the Weather Bureau in Raleigh, North Carolina stated that as a result of Hazel, “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated.” The December 1954 NOAA report on the hurricanes of the year states that “every pier in a distance of 170 miles of coastline was demolished”.
The coastal area near the landfall was battered by winds estimated to have been as high 150 mph. Winds of 98 mph were measured in Wilmington while winds were estimated at 125 mph at Wrightsville Beach and 140 mph at Oak Island. A storm surge of over 12 feet inundated a large area of coastline reaching as high as 18 feet at Calabash, where the storm surge coincided with the time of the lunar high tide and Hazel nearly wiped out Garden City, SC.
[Beaufort/Morehead City Causeway Destruction from Hurricane Hazel. From NOAA]
The damage from Hazel was not limited to the coast. With Hazel having a forward speed of as much as 55 mph at times, the Raleigh-Durham Airport reported sustained winds of 75 mph with gusts to 90 mph. With such high winds state-wide, heavy damage was caused to forests, and to property as a result of falling trees. In North Carolina, the most rain was received in the interior of the state: Robbins received 11.3 inches of rain, and Carthage received 9.7 inches.
As Hazel moved rapidly inland, its winds only slowly diminished with a gust to 110 mph reported at Fayetteville and 90 mph at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. Wind gusts near 100 mph were reported from numerous locations in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York as Hazel raced northward. Myrtle Beach, SC reported a peak gust of 106 mph; Washington DC reported sustained winds to 78 mph while peak gusts to over 90 mph were reported far to the north in New York state. In New York City, a peak gust of 113 mph was recorded at the Battery at the south end of Manhattan.
[Radio Island damage. From NOAA]
Nineteen people were killed in North Carolina, with several hundred more injured; 15,000 homes were destroyed and another 39,000 were damaged. Damages in the Carolinas amounted to $163 million. Beach property incurred $61 million of damage alone. Elsewhere in the eastern United States, damages were estimated at $145 million for a total of $308 million in losses from the hurricane.