I say ‘happy’ because here in the central Carolinas we are extremely fortunate not to have experienced more serious devastation and destruction at the hands of Hurricane Irma this week. The storm ravaged the entire state of Florida like nothing I’ve ever seen before and caused flooding all the way into Charleston, SC. Our thoughts, prayers, and recovery efforts should be directed towards those that have lost so much in the way of Harvey and Irma in the past few weeks.
But before there was Andrew, Charley, Ivan, Katrina, Ike, Sandy, and Matthew, there was Hugo: a storm that had formed off the coast of Africa on September 9, 1989, moved westward, ravaging Puerto Rico and the Caribbean before turning northwest and setting its sights on the South Carolina coastline. At midnight on September 22, two days before my 9th birthday, Hugo slammed into Charleston, SC, just 3 hours south of Charlotte, as a Category 4 hurricane. Only two hurricanes on record prior to Hugo were as strong in SC: Hazel in October 1954 and Gracie in September 1959 (both were Category 4). None have been as strong since Hugo. While the eye of the storm literally passed directly over Charleston, surges to the right of the storm’s path were the most extreme. The center of the storm would eventually pass over Charlotte shortly before dawn. The storm weakened as it made its way up the East Coast and into Canada. Hugo finally dissipated in the North Atlantic on September 25.
Hurricane Hugo is remembered as one the most catastrophic hurricanes in history. The storm was responsible for approximately 49 deaths and an estimated $10 billion in damages, with $1 billion just in North Carolina alone. It is still the 11th most costly Atlantic hurricane 28 years later. Of the 51 storms on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) list of most costly Atlantic hurricanes, only 7 were the most costly on record at the time they dissipated. Hugo was 1 of the 7, producing the highest storm tide heights ever recorded along the U.S. East Coast, around 20 feet in Bulls Bay, SC. The surges were so powerful that cities several hundred miles inland in NC experienced Category 1 hurricane force wind gusts. And while many storms since then have caused much more destruction and sadly, loss of life, many of them were nowhere near as powerful as Hugo when they made landfall over the U.S. Matthew, for example, was dubbed a “1,000 year storm” and brought record breaking rain amounts to NC, but was a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall near Myrtle Beach, SC last year. And Katrina, the most costly Atlantic Hurricane on record, was a Category 3 when it made its second and most notable landfall in Southeast Louisiana in 2005. Because of Hugo’s extreme devastation, the name Hugo was retired and will never again be used for an Atlantic Hurricane.
The scope of Hugo
For our area, Hugo was "the" storm of its generation.
For native Charlotteans and those that were here at the time, Hugo was unforgettable. In the aftermath of the storm, 90-95% of the entire city was without power and it took nearly two weeks and a herculean effort on the part of the city and its residents to restore not just the power, but some sense of normalcy to this awe-struck community.
Must Watch: Hurricane Hugo TV Coverage (WCNC), September 1989 - Charlotte, NC
Fun Fact: The Charlotte Hornets mascot, Hugo, was not named after the Hurricane.
The Hugo moniker was selected from a pool of more than 6,000 fan suggestions, and was inaugurated as part of the Charlotte Hornets' first season (1988-89). In November of 1988, a year before the storm, the Charlotte Observer ran an article entitled “On the Trail of Hugo.” In the aftermath of the damage resulting from Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, the Hornets announced that the Hugo moniker would remain, and the mascot's name would not be changed to Hoser or Hank.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass