Hurricanes bring the unimaginable to life

Last night was the 21st anniversary of Hurricane Fran hitting North Carolina. If you lived here, I probably don’t need to remind you. The devastation in Raleigh and Wake Forest made the area look like a war zone. Large oak trees were down with root balls rising into the air, blocking views of the houses they once shaded. Many people lost trees to the relentless wind and rain, and many lost homes to fallen trees. Everyone lost power, some for over a week. People had cookouts to feed their families and neighbors and in order to eat perishable food before it spoiled.

Fran's track

The track of Hurricane Fran as shown on a map courtesy of the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service Raleigh Office published an excellent summary of Hurricane Fran’s lifespan and impacts. Within it, there is a radar loop from the time Fran came ashore on our southern beaches to the time she impacted Wake County, doing $900 million in damage to our one county alone! For some readers looking at the page, it may be the first time they’ve seen the radar images, especially since the area was without power during the storm. The maps at the bottom of the summary show a bullseye with 10 plus inches of rain over Wake County and maximum wind gusts of 50 to 90 miles per hour, depending on which side of the county you resided.

If you experienced Fran or any other tropical system like her, you have an idea of the kind of devastation a hurricane can bring. Remember those howling winds and the rain pelting your roof and windows for hours on end, the brief and eerie silence as the eye passed over, and then more wind and rain that seemed to go on forever. Now imagine living through a Category 5 storm like Hurricane Irma. This morning she hit the island of St. Maarten, and her destruction was caught on camera.

I literally couldn’t imagine winds over 120 miles per hour. I’m not talking about a gust, or a tornado that hits briefly and then dissipates. I’m talking about non-stop wind consistently beating on your structures and then add rain and storm surge – damage on top of damage. Can you imagine it? Thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to. Beach cameras in the islands are bringing the unimaginable to our electronic screens while we sit and wait and wonder if Irma will affect North Carolina.

If she does – and she likely will in some way early next week – she won’t have nearly the power she did this morning as a Category 5. That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. We saw with Fran and Floyd and Matthew that it doesn’t take a major hurricane to do major damage even this far inland.

Our best bet is to be prepared, but don’t panic.