Preparedness & Recovery

Irma Could Follow in Hugo's Deadly, Destructive Footsteps

The latest model from the National Hurricane Center shows Irma crossing over Florida — and making landfall somewhere between the central Florida coast and South Carolina.

by Margaret Moffett, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. / September 7, 2017
In this Sept. 22, 1989 file photo, a sailboat lies in the street of Charleston, S.C. after it was washed ashore by Hurricane Hugo. Twenty five years after the storm, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., the longest-serving mayor in Charleston history, says preparing for and recovering from the storm was the most important time in his service to the city. AP/Lou Krasky

(TNS) - As Irma's path continues to shift eastward, its similarities to Hurricane Hugo mount.

The latest model from the National Hurricane Center shows Irma crossing over Florida — and making landfall somewhere between the central Florida coast and South Carolina.

If that scenario holds, Irma (metaphorically speaking) could hop on Interstate 85 North and tear through Charlotte and Greensboro.

Two words: Not. Good.

This week, all eyes are on Hurricane Irma, a monstrous windmaker that most likely will strike Florida on Sunday or Monday.

But 28 years ago this month, Greensboro, along with the rest of central North Carolina, was fixated on an eerily similar beast:

Hurricane Hugo.

The two storms have much in common — at least at this point in their long, slow marches to landfall.

Hugo in 1989, like Irma in 2017, spent some time at Category 5.

Both storms took a similar path from the coast of Africa toward the Dominican Republic.

But that’s where Hugo took a decidedly northwestern turn, making landfall Friday, Sept. 22, as a Category 4 near Charleston, S.C. The storm killed 29 people in the state, making it one of the worst disasters of the 20th century.

As bad as that was, it could have been worse. Early warnings allowed 350,000 people to evacuate the South Carolina coast safely.

The storm headed for Charlotte, then sped into the Triad as a mere tropical storm.

Greensboro was spared the worst of Hugo, which, as Staff Writer Taft Wireback wrote for the Sept. 23 edition of the News & Record, could have been shortened to “Hu” because most of its “go” went somewhere else.

About 51,000 residences lost electricity in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, where tree after tree downed power lines. The wind gusted to 51 mph just before 7 a.m. at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

UNC-Greensboro canceled classes since many of the buildings were without power. The building that housed the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles testing center on Patterson Street, one of only two in the city, collapsed under the weight of the wind.

A transformer exploded in High Point, where City Hall and the police station reported temporary power outages.

Otherwise, Hugo’s damage locally was “not that much more than there would be in a big thunderstorm,” C.C. Richards, of the Greensboro-Guilford Emergency Management Office, reported that evening.

That was not the case in Charlotte and parts of the western Piedmont, where wind rather than rain did the bulk of the damage.

Then-Charlotte Mayor Sue Myrick declared a state of emergency, with about one-quarter of Mecklenburg County residents losing power.

Damages from Hugo cost roughly $10 billion in South Carolina and $725 million in North Carolina.

Irma could still follow in Hugo’s path, closing in on the Carolinas instead of barreling due west toward Miami, as forecasters expect.

If not, then maybe Tropical Storm Jose will.


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