Since moving to the Outer Banks in 1989 we have been threatened by hurricanes almost every year. Dealing with these storms is no fun but is worth it to live in such a great place. Years ago when we were looking for a spot to raise our boys Lori and I decided the most important thing was to be in a spot where the risk of flooding would be minimal and where it would be less likely to have wind damage from Outer Banks hurricanes. Yes, there are many places like that on the Outer Banks. We found that spot and we I’ve never felt the need to leave the beach for any hurricane. With Hurricane Florence heading in our general direction and people approaching panic mode, I figured now would be a good time to write about a few memorable hurricane experiences. Here they are:
Hurricane Bob 1991
At the time Lori and I were newlyweds living in the Oyster Pointe condominiums in Kill Devil Hills. Lori’s parents were visiting from New Jersey and had never experienced a hurricane before. Bob passed just off shore of the Outer Banks during the night. It was a long night with hurricane force winds and driving rain hitting the condo. I don’t think anyone slept much. My father-in-law never said it but I had the feeling he was not happy about me about choosing this place for his daughter to live.
Hurricane Isabel 2003
Isabel took a track that we had not seen since living here. Most of the storms before Isabel hit Florida and the Bahamas and came up the coast. Isabel more or less came in from the south east. It ended up hitting Ocracoke and Hatteras Island pretty hard.
It passed by our new Kitty Hawk home in the afternoon. I remember opening our front door which faces west and sitting on our front porch listening to the wind howl through the trees. Leaving that westerly door open created a vacuum in our house. In no time there was rain water coming through an electrical fixture in the middle of our kitchen. That strong wind had forced the driving rain up into the roof vent and down into our kitchen. As soon as I closed the front door that leak stopped.
As the storm approached Kitty Hawk the ocean came over the dunes and filled up the area between the beach road and the by-pass. When the storm passed all that water between the highways found its way back to the ocean at Wilkins Street.
Isabel was one of the worst because the power was out long enough for all the food in the freezer to spoil.
Hurricane Irene 2011
Irene took another unique track towards us. It came up the sound from the south instead of out in the ocean towards us. This ended up being a bad thing for many local people since most of us live on the sound side of the island. We started seeing high water on the sound side before dark and the sound waters reached their highest at night.
The next day revealed high water marks all over the Outer Banks that most people had not seen before. I remember checking on a friend’s house on Bay Drive. The seaweed and debris line stopped just short of his ground floor storage area. On Pea Island that debris line was about ten feet up the edge of the ocean front dune. Some low-lying areas on the sound side of Kitty Hawk took over a week to dry out. For weeks after that storm the mosquitos were the worst I have ever seen them. It was very heartwarming to see neighbor helping neighbor with the clean-up and rebuilding after this storm went by. Outer Bankers are very generous and we all look after each other. This was a great example of that community spirit.
Hurricane Sandy 2012
Sandy never really “hit” the Outer Banks but the storm was so powerful that the Outer Banks greatly felt its effects. At that time, I had a house listed on Wilkins Street in Kitty Hawk right where the water went out when Isabel left. It was under contract and was getting ready to close. Sandy’s waves inundated between the highways in Kitty Hawk again.
I remember driving to work that morning and seeing water all the way to the bypass. Later that day I put on my waders and went to check on my listing. The water was past my knees inside the ground floor! After the water receded I again went in the house and noticed that the ground floor wall on the ocean side of the house was pushed in by the force of the waves hitting the house. I took pictures for the owner and the buyer. The buyer still wanted to close with a price adjustment for the damage done. We closed on it before Christmas.
Hurricane Matthew 2016
Hurricane Matthew was the last of three tropical systems to come through the Outer Banks during the first three weeks of September.
The wind in Kitty Hawk was not the as bad as I experienced with Isabel or Irene but it rained and rained and rained. We probably had close to two feet of rain from those three storms.
There was rain water in places where I’ve never seen it. In some places it took two weeks to dry out afterwards. At the time I had a house near the end of Ocean Blvd in Southern Shores under contract. The rain water missed going in the ground floor of that house by just a couple inches. Pictures were taken for the buyers and they purchased it just a few weeks later.
After almost 30 years of watching these storms come and go it’s hard to get as anxious about them as I used to. Dealing with these storms is no fun, they hurt business and can be dangerous.
My hurricane experiences are likely to be more positive than many locals. In fact, I consider myself lucky compared to many people in hurricane prone areas. I’d bet that most of those Outer Bankers who have had worse experiences than me still would not consider living anywhere else. Be praying for those folks who have this storm bearing down on them. Here in Kitty Hawk we will likely have a little wind and rain. Hopefully, the beach will be back to normal shortly!
Julie Miracle says
Great perspective on the historical impact of major hurricanes on the Outer Banks. I really enjoyed how Jeff brings out the diverse aspects of each storm – I guess he must keep a storm journal! Looking forward to post-Florence pics of Wilkins St.!
Marianne Freeman says
Hi, You mentioned in the first paragraph that there are places on OBX that is safe from wind and storm surge, where is that? We live in Hawaii and are coming to OBX in March to see if we like it there to move to but are nervous about hurricanes but if there are safer spots, that’d be great! Thank you
Jeff Scott says
Thanks for your inquiry. If you are concerned about hurricane flooding then the places I’d look for are areas where the elevation is over thirteen to fifteen feet above sea level. There’s a ton of land here that is higher than that. In the area where I live our strongest winds during hurricanes come from the east. There are places on the Outer Banks where you have that good elevation and protection from those strong easterly winds. Usually that protection is a large sand dune to the east of your residence. We help lots of people find just the right property for their needs and concerns. Please feel free to contact our office if we can help you with anything here.