Aug 28, 2011

DAY 88

Hurricane Irene made landfall at 7:30am eastern in Point Lookout, North Carolina as a Cat 1 with 85 mph sustained winds and a central pressure of 952 mb. She had an unusually large tropical storm force wind field, and her heavy rains brought substantial inland flooding to North Carolina all the way to New England. Irene did not cause heavy damage to infrastructure, but did cause widespread minor damage. The 10 to 15 foot breakers will leave considerable beach erosion.

(Hurricane Irene at Landfall)


I was surveying the storm up and down the Outer Banks of North Carolina throughout the storm. The thing that stood out to me the most was the huge and even distribution of tropical storm force winds. There where tropical storm force wind gusts recorded from the Cape all the way to Charlotte, which is more than 300 miles. I was at Nags Head at 7:30am when Irene made landfall and was experiencing 40 mph sustained winds there. As I made my way down the Cape on highway 12 as far as the road was open, I never registered a sustained wind above 60 mph, and I have my doubts that sustained winds ever reached more than 70 or 75 mph. There were no hurricane force sustained winds recorded at any official measuring station. Several storm chasers that I know and respect told me that they measured no hurricane force sustained winds at Atlantic Beach or Harkers Island. Even as the center of circulation passed over me when I worked my way back to inland Tyrrell county, the maximum sustained wind was only 60 mph. 

  (Raw Video of Irene in the Outer Banks)

Wind gusts however were a completely different story. Not only where they widespread like the NWS graphic shows below, but they were very frequent. I was getting a 70 mph plus wind gust about every 15 to 20 minutes. The Cedar Island Ferry Terminal recorded the highest gust at 115 mph, the Fort Macon Weatherflow Station near Atlantic Beach had a 92 mph gust, and the Billy Mitchell Airport in Hatteras recorded an 88 mph gust. 

Actual damage from the winds is relatively light. Some cosmetic damage to roofs is about all I saw, there was a lot of damage to the power lines in the area that I saw, but fortunately the repair will just require reconnection. So the unbelievable 2 million costumers without power in the US, will likely be reconnected within a couple of days. There were just a few areas were there was damage to the actual power poles themselves. These are the repairs that will require a little more attention.

 (Power Lines Damaged Near Nags Head)
                                   (Minor Roof Damage in Nags Head)                                   

The precipitation that I witnessed in North Carolina was very high. The most I've seen in a storm since Tropical Storm Fay which dumped more than 27 inches on rain on Melbourne, Florida. Early tally's from the National Weather Service has Bunyan in Washington County, North Carolina with the highest amount of 14 inches. If that stands as the high, I'll be a little surprised just because it felt like more than that. But that would come nowhere near Hurricane Floyd's 24 inches in 1999, which still stands as North Carolina's wettest storm of all-time. Flood damage could end up being one of the costliest part of this storm. 

1. BUNYAN                    14.00              
2. WASHINGTON            11.31              
3. NEW BERN                 11.13             
4. GRIFTON                   10.53             
5. NEWPORT-CROATAN  10.22              
6. WENONA                   10.13              

(Preliminary Rainfall Totals in NC from the NWS)


The National Weather Service in North Carolina reported 10 to 15 foot breakers there, 7 to 8 feet in Virginia, and 3 to 5 feet in the NYC area. There will no doubt be some damage to coastal homes as a result of this, although I did not witness any along the North Carolina coast. The surge did not reach high enough to effect most of the structures there because they are built to withstand the height of those surges, and I saw no spot where the surge was able to destroy any of the pillars that those homes are built on. The damage to the beaches is not assessed yet, but the damage there will likely be pretty significant. The surge did damage the ends of a couple of piers in NC, one was the historical Atlantic Beach pier in front of the Sheraton, and the Bogue Inlet fishing pier was also damaged. I shot a little video of the Nags Head fishing pier, and it's easy to see the power of the waves when they smash into it.

(Nags Head Fishing Pier During Irene)


Irene did spawn many tornadoes. Reports came in from North Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware.  They were small and short lived as many hurricane spawned tornadoes are. With a rotating storm coming in so low to the ground, it doesn't take much effort for a small twister to be triggered. A little friction from the land as the outer bands come ashore is usually all it takes. I came across some tornado damage on highway 64 just outside of Columbia, North Carolina. A modular home was completely destroyed, a few other nearby structures where damaged and a pickup truck was flipped.


(Tornado Damage near Columbia, NC)


13 deaths have been blamed on Irene so far. But the financial cost will likely take several months to tally. Hurricane Irene will likely go down in history as one of our nations most expensive storms. Factor in insurance claims for property damage, repair to infrastructure, and the restoration of beaches, and we could be looking at a 10 to 20 billion dollar storm. One thing to note with the infrastructure is that we were preparing ourselves for a much worse scenario. So the convoy upon convoy of utility linemen, and tree trimmers, and generator trucks that were deployed long before the storm hit, will factor in even if they are not needed or used. The men will be paid, and the fuel has been purchased.


  1. Nice overview of the area. Have been a Hatteras rat for over 40 years. Found this video to be interesting.

  2. Wow that's terrible damage. Now I know why they wouldn't let us go down there. That will take a lot of time and money to repair.