The summer of 2016 brought a key revision to Carolina hurricane history: Gracie of 1959 has been upgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm.
Vicious Hurricane Gracie roared into Beaufort County, South Carolina on September 29, 1959, killing 10 and causing $14 million in damage. Initial reports pegged Gracie's top winds at 125 mph, but in reanalyzing historical data, a team of researchers with the National Hurricane Center found surface and aircraft observations to suggest 130 mph was a more realistic mark. The small uptick in wind speed was enough to boost Gracie's category from 3 to 4. Gracie was responsible for a storm surge of up to 12 feet in parts of the Lowcountry. Rain totals exceeded a foot in parts of SC leading to significant flooding.
National Hurricane Center Science and Operations Officer Charles Landsea and his team of researchers have made significant hurricane category revisions before. In 2002, the team pronounced ferocious Hurricane Andrew of 1992 was actually a Category 5 - the strongest rating on the wind speed-based Saffir-Simpson scale - and not a Category 4 when it barreled into South Florida. Landsea says hurricane reanalysis is important work because "good climate records can help us know if hurricanes are becoming more numerous or more or less intense."
Hurricane Gracie joins Hurricanes Hazel of 1954 and Hugo of 1989 as the only Category 4 storms to directly strike the Carolinas in modern history. There have been no recorded Category 5s.