FIRST ALERT: The Grand Strand’s hurricane history

Published: Jun. 1, 2021 at 6:06 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) -The Carolinas are no stranger to hurricanes, with storms like Hazel, Hugo, Floyd and Florence shaping the history of the region.

On average, a tropical storm or hurricane passes within 50 miles of Myrtle Beach once every two years. Statistically, the Grand Strand is impacted by category one hurricane conditions every 7 years. Myrtle Beach typically sees a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) every 30 years. The last direct hit from a major hurricane was Hazel in 1954.

Hurricane Hazel made landfall near Little River on Oct. 15, 1954. With winds up to 150 mph, storm surge reached 20 feet in some parts of the Carolinas and devastated beachfront communities. Winds at the old Air Force Base – now the Market Common gusted to over 120 mph. Every pier in a distance of 170 miles of the coastline was demolished. In Garden City, all but three of the 275 buildings were damaged. In Myrtle Beach, it is estimated nearly 80 percent of oceanfront houses and motels were destroyed.

Hazel hit in 1954.
Hazel hit in 1954.(WMBF)

Hugo made landfall just north of Charleston as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 22, 1989. The damage left behind was staggering. 80% of South Carolina was without power. 4.5 million acres of trees were blown down. The 20-foot storm surge north of Charleston holds the record as the highest ever observed on the East Coast. The surge reached 13 feet in Surfside Beach and as high as 10 to 12 feet in the Grand Strand. 4 feet of sand covered many parts of Ocean Blvd. 79,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Hugo claimed the lives of 35 South Carolinians.

Hugo hit in 1989.
Hugo hit in 1989.(WMBF)

Hurricane Floyd made landfall near Wilmington, N.C. the morning of Sept. 16, 1999, as a Category 2 storm. Floyd still holds the record of the most people ever evacuated from a hurricane as its uncertain forecast led to people to flee from Florida all the way to Virginia. Even though the hurricane moved past the area quickly, torrential rain fell through much of Horry County. Some areas saw between 15 and 20 inches. The rain led to some of the worst flooding for the Waccamaw River at the time, cresting more than 17 feet in some places. A record that would be shattered twice in the years to follow.

Floyd hit in 1999.
Floyd hit in 1999.(WMBF)

Hurricane Matthew made landfall on October 8 2016 near Georgetown and then moved up the coast. Hurricane-force wind gusts across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee led to nearly 2 million cubic yards of storm debris. Nearly 1 million South Carolinians lost power. Torrential rain led to 25 damn breaches in South Carolina. The Waccamaw River rose well above flood stage and broke the 1999 record set by Hurricane Floyd.

Matthew hit in 2016
Matthew hit in 2016(WMBF)

Two years later, a slow moving disaster – Hurricane Florence. What had been forecast to hit directly as a category 4, Florence rapidly weakened before landfall but also slowed to a crawl after making landfall near Wilmington. It took the center of Florence a full 24 hours to cross through Horry County – at times only moving at 1 to 2 mph. The resulting rainfall was staggering and record-shattering. Just north of the North Carolina border, rainfall totals reached 30 to 40 inches. Lumberton recorded nearly 36 inches of rain, Loris picked up 24 inches – and now holds the record for the most rain ever dropped by a hurricane in South Carolina. The river flooding that followed was catastrophic. The Waccamaw River surged past the record set by Matthew by a full 4 feet. Nearly 90,000 structures across North and South Carolina were flooded, thousands had to be rescued. 51 people were killed across the Carolinas.

Florence hit in September, 2018.
Florence hit in September, 2018.(WMBF)

Those are just the big ones. Countless other hurricanes and tropical storms have brought impacts to the region including a burst of activity over the last 6 years. Isaias, Dorian, Irm, all brought impacts from wind rain and tornadoes.

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