Lake Junaluska

Hurricanes

Hurricane Fran

North Carolina has a very appealing climate, and the weather here is a large reason why so many people are moving to live in this area. But we also have our fair share of severe weather, and it is critical to understand patterns in severe weather to protect the lives and property of our citizens. For this reason, the State Climate Office studies the history of severe weather in North Carolina. We not only study tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and winter storm climatologies, but we make this information available to everyone for planning, decision-making, and general education. Our website has a history of tropical storms that have passed through North Carolina, and we regularly give presentations on the threats of flooding and wind damage due to tropical cyclones. Such research and outreach help to inform the public and improve severe weather management and mitigation in North Carolina.

Tropical cyclones are low pressure systems that form over warm tropical oceans. The primary energy source for a tropical cyclone is the release of latent heat, which is most prevalent over warm ocean waters. The time of the year when tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic Ocean is from June to November with the peak of the Atlantic tropical cyclone season in early September. The average number of storms that reach hurricane intensity per year in the Atlantic basin is about six. A tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean begins as an area of low pressure near the coast of western Africa. The Gulf of Mexico is also a common place for a tropical cyclone to form. If the atmospheric and oceanic conditions are favorable, it can intensify into a tropical depression, then a tropical storm, and then a hurricane. Tropical cyclones are referred to as hurricanes when their maximum sustained winds reach or exceed 74 mph (33 ms-1 or 65 kts). Hurricane intensity is further classified by the Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates hurricane intensity on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most intense. The Saffir-Simpson scale is shown in the table below.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Category Barometric Pressure Wind Speed Storm Surge Damage Potential
1 (weak) 28.94 in Hg or more
(980.2 mb or more)
65 - 82 knots
(75 - 95 mph)
4 - 5 feet
(1.2 - 1.5 meters)
Minimal damage to vegetation
2 (moderate) 28.5 - 28.93 in Hg
(965.12 - 979.68 mb)
83 - 95 knots
(96 - 110 mph)
6 - 8 feet
(1.8 - 2.4 meters)
Moderate damage to houses
3 (strong) 27.91 - 28.49 in Hg
(945.14 - 964.78 mb)
96 - 113 knots
(111 - 130 mph)
9 - 12 feet
2.7 - 3.7 meters
Extensive damage to small buildings
4 (very strong) 27.17 - 27.9 in Hg
(920.08 - 944.8 mb)
114 - 135 knots
(131 - 155 mph)
13 - 18 feet
(3.9 - 5.5 meters)
Extreme structural damage
5 (devastating) < 27.17 in Hg
(< 920.08 mb)
> 135 knots
(> 155 mph)
> 18 feet
(> 5.5 meters)
Catastrophic building failures possible

North Carolina has a long and notorious history of destruction by hurricanes. Ever since the first expeditions to Roanoke Island in 1586, hurricanes are recorded to have caused tremendous damage to the state. Reliable classification of the intensity of tropical cyclones began in 1886. Since that time, there have been 951 tropical cyclones that have been recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 166 or 17.5% of those tropical cyclones passed within 300 miles of North Carolina. Table 1 contains the number and percentage of tropical storms and hurricanes that made landfall in North Carolina or made landfall in another state and later passed through North Carolina. The coast of North Carolina can expect to receive a tropical storm or a hurricane once every four years, while a tropical cyclone affects the state every 1.3 years.

North Carolina Tropical Cyclone Statistics (1886 - 1996)

Statistic Direct Landfalling Tropical Cyclones in NC Tropical Cyclones That Passed Through NC
Number of Storms 28 82
Percentage of Storms 2.9 8.6
Average Number of Years Between Storms 4 1.3
Average Number of Storms Per Year 0.25 0.74

The state's protruding coastline makes it a favorable target for tropical cyclones (TC) that curve northward in the western Atlantic Ocean. Not surprisingly, the most favored location for tropical cyclones to make landfall in North Carolina is Cape Hatteras. The other two protrusions in the North Carolina coastline, Cape Fear and Cape Lookout, are also favored areas for tropical cyclones to make landfall. Table 2 at the bottom lists all hurricanes and tropical storms that have made direct landfall in North Carolina since 1800. Approximate location of landfall and estimated wind speed and storm surge at landfall are also listed.

Hurricanes By Month Hurricanes by Decade

To view a map of storm tracks, visit the Historical Hurricane Tracks page provided by NOAA's Coastal Services Center.

This table depicts all hurricanes that made landfall in North Carolina.

Storm Name Max Classification Year Max Winds Min Pressure
Ophelia Category 1 2005 75 976
Charley Category 4 2004 125 947
Alex Category 3 2004 105 957
Isabel Category 5 2003 145 915
Floyd Category 4 1999 135 921
Bonnie Category 3 1998 100 954
Fran Category 3 1996 105 946
Bertha Category 3 1996 100 960
Emily Category 3 1993 100 960
Charley Category 1 1986 70 980
Gloria Category 4 1985 125 920
Diana Category 4 1984 115 949
Ginger Category 2 1971 95 959
Donna Category 5 1960 140 932
Ione Category 3 1955 105 938
Diane Category 3 1955 105 969
Connie Category 4 1955 125 936
Hazel Category 4 1954 120 937
Carol Category 2 1954 85 976
Barbara Category 2 1953 95 987
Unnamed Category 2 1949 95 977
Unnamed Category 4 1944 120 943
Unnamed Category 1 1944 80 990
Unnamed Category 3 1936 105 968
Unnamed Category 3 1933 105 957
Unnamed Category 3 1933 105 971
Unnamed Category 1 1920 70
Unnamed Category 1 1913 75 976
Unnamed Category 1 1908 70
Unnamed Category 1 1906 80 977
Unnamed Category 1 1901 70
Unnamed Category 2 1899 95
Unnamed Category 4 1899 130 930
Unnamed Category 3 1896 110 960
Unnamed Category 3 1893 105 955
Unnamed Category 3 1893 105 954
Unnamed Category 3 1887 105 972
Unnamed Category 3 1885 100 958
Unnamed Category 3 1883 110
Unnamed Category 2 1881 90 975
Unnamed Category 1 1880 70 987
Unnamed Category 3 1879 100 971
Unnamed Category 2 1878 90 963
Unnamed Category 3 1876 100 980
Unnamed Category 1 1874 80 980
Unnamed Category 1 1861 70 999
Unnamed Category 1 1861 70
Unnamed Category 2 1857 90 961
Row Color Maximum Classification
Category 3, 4 and 5
Category 1 and 2
Tropical Storm
Tropical Low, Tropical Depression, Sub-Tropical Storm, and Extratropical Storm


This table depicts storms that have affected North Carolina. Note this does not include direct landfalling storms along NC's coast, but would include storms that made landfall elsewhere and moved into the interior parts of the state.

Storm Name Max Classification Year Max Winds Min Pressure
Unnamed Tropical Depression 2009 30 1006
Hanna Category 1 2008 75 977
Fay Tropical Storm 2008 60 986
Cristobal Tropical Storm 2008 55 998
Gabrielle Tropical Storm 2007 50 1004
Barry Tropical Storm 2007 50 990
Ernesto Category 1 2006 65 987
Alberto Tropical Storm 2006 60 995
Cindy Category 1 2005 65 992
Jeanne Category 3 2004 105 951
Ivan Category 5 2004 145 910
Gaston Category 1 2004 65 986
Frances Category 4 2004 125 937
Bonnie Tropical Storm 2004 55 1001
Bill Tropical Storm 2003 50 997
Allison Tropical Storm 2001 50 1000
Helene Tropical Storm 2000 60 986
Gordon Category 1 2000 70 981
Dennis Category 2 1999 90 962
Earl Category 2 1998 85 964
Danny Category 1 1997 70 984
Josephine Tropical Storm 1996 60 970
Jerry Tropical Storm 1995 35 1002
Allison Category 1 1995 65 982
Gordon Category 1 1994 75 980
Beryl Tropical Storm 1994 50 1000
Alberto Tropical Storm 1994 55 993
Andrew Category 5 1992 150 922
Marco Tropical Storm 1990 55 989
Hugo Category 5 1989 140 918
Chris Tropical Storm 1988 45 1005
Kate Category 3 1985 105 954
Danny Category 1 1985 80 988
Bob Category 1 1985 65 1002
Frederic Category 4 1979 115 943
David Category 5 1979 150 924
Babe Category 1 1977 65 995
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1976 40 1011
Dottie Tropical Storm 1976 45 996
Eloise Category 3 1975 110 955
Agnes Category 1 1972 75 977
Edith Category 5 1971 140 943
Alma Category 1 1970 70 993
Abby Category 1 1968 65 965
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1965 45
Dora Category 4 1964 115 942
Cleo Category 4 1964 135 950
Gracie Category 4 1959 120 950
Cindy Category 1 1959 65
Arlene Tropical Storm 1959 50 1000
Flossy Category 1 1956 80 980
Able Category 2 1952 90 998
Unnamed Category 4 1949 130 954
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1947 45
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1947 50 989
Unnamed Category 4 1946 115 979
Unnamed Category 4 1945 120 951
Unnamed Category 3 1944 105 968
Unnamed Category 1 1940 80 975
Unnamed Category 1 1939 70
Unnamed Category 5 1935 140 892
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1934 50
Unnamed Category 4 1933 120 948
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1932 45
Unnamed Category 4 1929 120 936
Unnamed Category 5 1928 140 929
Unnamed Category 1 1928 70
Unnamed Category 2 1928 85 977
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1927 50
Unnamed Category 2 1916 85 983
Unnamed Category 4 1915 115 935
Unnamed Category 2 1915 85 1003
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1915 45
Unnamed Category 1 1913 65
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1912 60
Unnamed Category 2 1911 85 972
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1908 35
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1907 40
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1905 45
Unnamed Category 1 1904 75
Unnamed Category 1 1903 80 976
Unnamed Category 2 1902 90 970
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1902 50
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1901 45
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1900 45
Unnamed Category 2 1896 85
Unnamed Category 3 1894 105 985
Unnamed Category 4 1893 115 948
Unnamed Category 2 1889 95
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1888 50 999
Unnamed Category 1 1887 75
Unnamed Category 2 1887 85
Unnamed Category 2 1886 85
Unnamed Category 2 1886 85
Unnamed Tropical Storm 1885 60
Unnamed Category 3 1882 100 949
Unnamed Category 2 1878 90 970
Unnamed Category 3 1877 100
Unnamed Category 1 1867 70
Unnamed Category 1 1859 70
Unnamed Category 3 1856 100 969
Unnamed Category 3 1854 110 938
Unnamed Category 2 1852 90
Unnamed Category 3 1852 100 961
Unnamed Category 3 1851 100