“A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts (a boundary separating two air masses of different densities). Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms. When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained winds. The higher the category, the greater the hurricane’s potential for property damage.” Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
I live in a Atlantic coastal state though some 200 miles inland. I have had a longstanding fascination with hurricanes and was living in Wilmington, NC in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria, a category 2 storm, appeared to be preparing to make a direct hit on our city. Fortunately it made a slight curve northeast and made landfall in the outer banks of North Carolina continuing on to New York and other states in the northeast. The hurricane caused 11 deaths and about $900 million in damages.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo hit our state as a category 4 storm and we felt the effects of this massive cyclone 200 miles inland. There were 35 deaths in South Carolina alone from Hugo and damages estimated at $5.9 billion.
Hurricanes are a fact of life. We can’t control them, we can’t direct them we can only get out of their way. But we don’t. The Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Charleston, South Carolina metros were among the national top 20 areas for the highest rates of population growth from 2014 to 2015. With this growth comes not only people but investment in buildings, buildings that can’t withstand the 150 mph winds of a category 5 hurricane.
How often will a storm like Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, SC? Believe it or not there are published odds. There is a 10% chance that any hurricane will hit Charleston and a 2.2% chance that it will be a major hurricane like Hugo. For Miami, FL. the odds are worse, a 26% chance of any hurricane hitting the city and an 11% chance that it will be a major hurricane. But still we populate, and build, risking lives and billions of dollars betting against the odds.
Like the million dollar mansions burnt to the ground on the hillsides of California, nature as its own methods of rebalancing what it deems to be out of balance. Forest fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes have existed long before we occupied strips of sand along the ocean more suited for dune grass and sea oats than million dollar vacation homes. I think nature knows this, I wonder why humans don’t?
To learn more about how Hurricane Hugo affected the state of South Carolina click here for an audio tour: Hurricane Hugo Then and … Now