We’ve seen a lot of devastation and tragedy in the last couple weeks from the tornadoes out west. Now, with our first tropical storm of the season moving up the east coast, it’s time to think about weather-related fatalities that are not related to tornadoes.
With the beginning of hurricane season this weekend, here's a look back at a major storm that took the east coast by surprise. The Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 affected many parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks. Later that year, historian and author David Stick provided The N&O with an account of the storm and a look back at how the state has dealt with effects of storms on the state's coastline.
Many of us living on the Outer Banks still find it hard to believe that the Ash Wednesday storm of this year was a nightmare we actually witnessed.
On March 6th, had we thought about storms at all, we would have felt secure. The expenditure of millions of dollars in money and hundreds of thousands of man hours in labor, over a period of a quarter of a century, had paid off in the construction of a high, wide and stabilized barrier dune along most of our coast.
But on the morning of March 7th many of us were awakened by hurricane intensity winds lashing from the northeast. Huge waves, fetching hundreds of miles across the stormy seas, were expending themselves against our shores in a final burst of thunderous anger.
Already the sudsy spindrift was banked against the beach grass in back of the dunes, and a person watching closely could see the first tentacles of foam-capped water sneaking through the sand valleys.
In a matter of minutes, for mile after mile along these Banks, the barrier dunes were breached. In many places, in the brief interval, the dunes simply disintegrated. Cottages, perched on the crest of those dunes, fell overboard. Others, facing the full fury of the breaking waves, were torn asunder.
Almost everywhere the flow of water over the beach was inundating roads and undermining low lying buildings, forming a vast new inland sea between the ocean and the sound. Within an hour much of the work of a quarter of a century was undone....
When the first Carolina proprietary settlements were attempted on Colington Island in 1664, the vessels supplying that plantation entered the sounds through Roanoke Inlet, which was located just north of the modern-day Roanoke Sound Bridge. During the early colonial period, as the settlement spread out along the shores and tributaries of Albemarle Sound, this Roanoke Inlet remained the main port of entry for the colony.
Early in the 18th century, however, the waters which had been coming down the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers to Albemarle Sound, and then through Roanoke Sound and out Roanoke Inlet to the ocean, gradually began to be diverted to the west of Roanoke Island. As this change took place Roanoke Inlet began to close, while the channels through Croatan Sound and Ocracoke Inlet increased in size.
Thus Roanoke Inlet disappeared and Ocracoke Inlet became the main port of entry during the late colonial period and the early years of statehood. But that was not to last either, for in 1846 a new inlet opened just 14 miles east of Ocracoke Inlet, and fifteen years later when the Civil War came to the Outer Banks this new Hatteras Inlet had become the most important on the coast.-- The News & Observer 7/29/62
In 1999, following Hurricane Dennis, writer James Eli Shiffer took a modern-day look at the shifting shape of the coast and its inlets.
Dennis wasn't the first storm to punch a hole through Hatteras Island between Buxton and Avon. The Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 drilled an inlet big enough that a temporary bridge was needed to connect the two parts of the island.
The bridge stayed for about two years, while residents dumped old cars and trash to try to fill it, said Stan Riggs, a geology professor at East Carolina University and barrier islands expert. Eventually the Army Corps of Engineers filled it with sand.
Still, the sea has washed over that skinny stretch of an already slender Hatteras Island at least twice since then. Its location at the island's elbow makes it a prime spot for the storm surge of Pamlico Sound to wash up and break through. "The water piles up in the corner, " Riggs said.
But whether the inlet remains depends on its size, he said.
"I bet it was just an overwash that happened to be a little bit deep. If that's the case, it will never stay there as an inlet. It will be gone in a second, as soon as wave action does its thing. To maintain an inlet, you have to have depth and current flow. It has to be a greater flow in and out of that thing than you have from wave energy."
Inlets play a vital role in the dynamic landscape of barrier islands. They create a flow of sand that helps islands migrate landward as the sea level rises. They also allow the ocean and rivers to mix, creating the brackish estuaries that are vital for fish spawning.
Inlets have also proven vital in North Carolina's history. The state's development in the 18th century depended on shipping through Ocracoke Inlet.
But inlets are fickle things. When Ocracoke Inlet shoaled up in the 19th century, the thriving village of Portsmouth became a ghost town.
Since Europeans started mapping North Carolina's coast, 26 named inlets have appeared on the Outer Banks north of Hatteras village, according to Orrin Pilkey, a Duke University coastal geologist. Now there's only one - Oregon Inlet, which was carved by a storm in 1846.
"They're like corks that pop every time there's a storm, " Pilkey said. -- The N&O 9/2/1999
The Washington Post reported on the 50th anniversary of the storm with tons of links to photos and videos from the other states affected. Check it out here.
It was a year that set a record for the earliest snowfall and the latest snowfall, when the 1915 Easter weekend found Raleigh in the "grasp of its greatest blizzard."
Cut off from communication with the rest of the world, telephone, telegraph, electric light wires haning in tangled masses around snapped poles; completely obstructing many streets; car system demoralized; and streets themselves standing rivers of half-melted snow; this is the condition into which the severest snow storms on record for the month of April has plunged Raleigh. After groping, working and hoping for a whole day, there is scant promise that Sunday will furnish much relief.
Since the Carolina Light and Power Company turned of its current at the request of Mayor Johnson at 2 o'clock Saturday morning, and since the last click over the telegraph wires of the Western Union at about the same time, Raleigh has been without electric power or telegraphic communication.
Last night, the city loomed up menacingly in darkness complete, save where pale gas lights, lamps and candles flared and flickered. It was a lonely looking Raleigh, too, with few pedestrians on the streets, and they in a monstrous hurry. For places of amusement were closed, and the movies were deserted.
Heavier snows have visited Raleigh on one or two occasions than that which enveloped Raleigh in a thick white cloud for almost seventeen hours. But the snow fall of Friday and Saturday, ten inches in depth, possessed more powers for havoc than even the heaviest. The moisture laden flakes settled one upon another in an automatic sort of packing process. Had it been the usual dry snow of this section, the continuous fall for seventeen hours would have totalled from fifteen to eighteen inches, according to the local Weather Bureau....
When Raleigh waked up Saturday morning, it was to see the city in the clutches of the severest blizzard of its history. The snow melting under foot and falling heavily from above made walking difficult and disagreeable. Telegraph poles stretched across almost every street and sometimes at intervals of every thirty yards obstructed traffic. The work of repairing the damage done was begun immediately. But it was slow, slow toil. Every available man on the systems of the Bell Telephone Company, the Western Union, the Postal, the Raleigh Telephone Company was put to work on the streets.
At eleven o'clock, according to Mr. Paul A. Tillery, assistant general manager of the Carolina Power and Light Company everything was in readiness to turn on power. But to Mayor Johnson, there appeared great danger in this. He directed the following to the Carolina Power and Light Company.
"As mayor of the city of Raleigh, recognizing the fact that there may be danger in having the electric current turned on tonight, after careful thought and consideration, notwithstanding the fact that you state that you are ready to turn on the same, as a matter of the greatest precaution and protection to life and property, I respectfully request that you do not turn on any current tonight." -- The News & Observer 4/4/1915
A traveler who was able to make it in from Durham by rail reported that conditions there were just as bad.
"The engineer told me that he had picked enough wire out of his wheels between here and Greensboro to wire the entire city of Raleigh," reported Mr. Will X. Coley, who came into the city from Durham Saturday morning. It took two hours to make the trip. Cautiously, the train moved along the line, stopping every now and then. Poles were across the track and to have sped on at the usual rate would have damaged the entire train and its load of human freight.
"Everything is out of commission in Durham," said Mr. Coley to a Times representative Saturday morning. "The street cars have stopped and the lights are out."
Mr. Coley reported that he was informed the entire country between here and Greensboro was in the grip of the blizzard. In Durham the storm descended and the wind blew. The Bull City is certainly a sister sufferer with this city and this is one time that neither city has it on the other. -- The Raleigh Times 4/3/1915
Tuesday’s baseball game between Duke and North Carolina A&T at War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro has been postponed due to inclement weather.
The game, originally scheduled for a 3 p.m. start, has been moved to Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m., at War Memorial Stadium.
Duke returns to action Wednesday at home, hosting Campbell in a 3 p.m. matchup at Jack Coombs Field.
North Carolina's weekend series against Stony Brook, scheduled to open at 3 p.m. on Friday, has been postponed. The series between the Tar Heels and Seawolves will open on Saturday at 2 p.m. and conclude with a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
North Carolina's weekend series against Stony Brook scheduled to open at 3 p.m. on Friday has been postponed. The series between the Tar Heels and Seawolves will open on Saturday at 2 p.m. and conclude with a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
I call myself the human barometer. Don’t laugh. It’s true. I’m sure many of you can relate. You can feel your health change as the weather changes. In recent years, studies have been undertaken to back up the idea that the weather affects your health.
I recently received a question from a reader asking if all rainbows are actually round. I have to admit that my initial response was “no” because I’ve never heard of a completely circular rainbow. However, by definition, rainbows could potentially be round.
There is a lot of excitement today about our extended range forecast for the weekend with the possibility of high temperatures in the 70’s. Someone asked me this morning how odd it would be to have a high of 71 on a Sunday in January. I had to answer that it wasn’t very odd at all.
One of the more confusing things about the weather is the terminology we use. A forecaster’s goal is to make accurate weather predictions and communicate them clearly to the public so that everyone has an idea of what to expect of Mother Nature. When the weather is nice, the job is pretty easy. When the weather is threatening, the job is much more complicated.