FIRST ALERT: Looking back on Bertha - Version 1.0

FIRST ALERT: Looking back on Bertha - Version 1.0
Hurricane Bertha in 1996 near the time of landfall on Wrightsville Beach, NC. (Source: NOAA)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - If the name Bertha sounds familiar, it’s likely because South Carolina had to deal with a much stronger Bertha in 1996.

Hurricane Bertha made landfall in southeastern North Carolina as a category 2 hurricane on July 12, 1996 - one of the earliest hurricanes on record to make landfall in the Carolinas.

Hurricane Bertha in 1996 near the time of landfall on Wrightsville Beach, NC.
Hurricane Bertha in 1996 near the time of landfall on Wrightsville Beach, NC. (Source: NOAA)

Bertha was the first significant storm to affect the area since 1984′s Hurricane Diana. Bertha’s arrival unfortunately began a four year period of frequent hurricanes and near misses for the Carolina Coast.

According to the National Weather Service, Bertha turned northwestward and slowed its forward speed as it entered the Bahamas. Moving northward on July 11th a few hundred miles east of the Florida coast, Bertha weakened rather substantially as northwesterly wind shear developed over the storm. Maximum sustained winds decreased to 80 mph versus 115 mph only two days earlier. Visible satellite imagery from July 11th showed deep thunderstorms confined to the east side of Bertha's circulation, with an exposed low-level swirl of clouds around the actual center. Thunderstorms wrapped back around the center during the morning of July 12th as the storm approached the Carolina coast. Maximum sustained winds strengthened to 105 mph before landfall, which occurred at 4:00 pm over Figure Eight Island, NC near Wilmington.

Bertha made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane near Wilmington on July 12, 1996.
Bertha made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane near Wilmington on July 12, 1996. (Source: WMBF)

Bertha passed just east of the Grand Strand during the morning of July 12, 1996. Wind gusts of 78 mph were measured at the Cherry Grove Pier. A wind gust to 62 mph was measured at the Garden City Pier, and 60 mph at the old Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Power outages, downed trees and erosion were the main impacts of Bertha in the Grand Strand with much more significant damage confined to coast North Carolina. Rainfall of 5 to 8 inches led to flooding in some areas.

Bertha marked the start of a very active period of hurricanes for the Carolinas and was followed by Hurricane Fran in August 1996, hurricane Bonnie in 1998, and Hurricanes Dennis, Floyd and Josephine in 1999.

Despite the impact Hurricane Bertha had in the Caribbean and United States in 1996, it didn’t meet the notoriety thresholds needed to retire the name. In 2002 Tropical Storm Bertha affected Louisiana and Texas; in 2008 Hurricane Bertha affected Bermuda as a category 1 hurricane, and in 2014 Hurricane Bertha affected parts of the Caribbean islands.

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