Table of Contents:
Hurricane season comes every June through November. Though we in Beaufort dread the storms, eastern Asia and many other areas of the world depend on hurricanes to bring much of their needed rainfall.
In the eastern Pacific, the storms are known as "typhoons" (probably from Cantonese Chinese toi fung, "great wind"), but are "cyclones" in the Indian Ocean (from Greek kuklon, "rotating"). Australians call them "willy-willys", wrote Frederick K. Lutgens and Edward J. Tarbuck in The Atmosphere ( Prentice-Hall, 1979). Our word "hurricane" comes from Carib huracan.
In the Encyclopedia of Earth and Physical Science (Marshall Cavendish, 1998), Shelly Fennel listed the North Atlantics most hurricane-prone areas: the Cape Verde Islands, the West Indes (east and north sections), the north and southwest Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes spring up on either side of the equator, but the Coriolis effect keeps them from forming within 5 degrees of that line Caused by the earths movement, this effect knocks oncoming winds to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere (its also responsible for the spiraling winds that drive the storms). If youve ever wondered why hurricanes dont rage in the South Atlantic, its because those waters are simply too cool (the ocean surface must be above 82º F for a hurricane to form).
Hurricanes arise when forces disturb the speed and direction of tropical trade winds. The most common disturbance is the "tropical wave", a low-pressure zone that travels westward over tropical waters. Other culprits are the low-pressure doldrums that shift up and down the equator as the seasons change, and "midlatitude weather disturbances" drawn to the equator from subtropical seas.
According to The New Book of Popular Science (Grolier, 1996), "a hurricane will develop from one of (these) disturbances when its upper-level winds push away the air that was previously lying over the top of the weather system. This results in a central area of low pressure, the eye, around which the hurricane will develop." Temperatures within this "eye" are relatively high.
Lutgens and Tarbuck described a hurricane as "a heat engine", each one generating power approaching the "amount of electricity consumed in the United States over a 6-month period". Because a storm needs a continual supply of moisture-laden air, it draws vast amounts of vapor rising from the warm surface of the ocean up through its center.
The storm will intensify if it can pump air out at its top faster than the water surface can replace it. These masses of vapor condense in the high altitudes, releasing heavy precipitation and the heat energy that makes the clouds swirl faster and faster. The resulting cumulonimbus (or thick, towering rain-bearing) clouds make up the "doughnut-shaped" core of the hurricane. Long bands of other cumulonimbus clouds spin like a pinwheel around this "axle" at the eye (a typical hurricane system spans about 300 miles in diameter; the eye is usually around 12 miles across, with clouds 8 miles high). The eye wall is the ring of the thunderstorms surrounding the eye of a hurricane; these storms bring the most severe wind, rain and turbulence.
North Atlantic trade winds tend to move newly-formed hurricanes from east to west at around 15 miles per hour. "Then, almost without exception," wrote Lutgens and Tarbuck, "hurricanes move (north-) poleward and are deflected into the westerlies, which increase their forward motion up to a maximum of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour." They often zigzag off the coast as we make helpless guesses about where landfall may be.
Of course, all storms are not created equal. The Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale ranks hurricanes into five strength categories:
A storm will begin to die as soon as the air supply stops moving. Thats the main reason why hurricanes always weaken when they hit land or move over colder waters. The "drag" of the land surface also helps bring Goliath down, forcing the hurricane to collapse into its own low-pressure center.
people have been naming hurricanes for centuries, meteorologists
once identified storms by their latitude-longitude numbers,
a practice that Chase's Calendar of Events called
"cumbersome" and "subject to error." The
current system of personal names is really just an A-W phonetic
alphabet that is easy to remember, quick to communicate and
which clearly identifies each new storm. The first names issued
by the Miami-Dade County-based hurricane center in 1953 were
women's names, and men's names joined the list in 1979. Atlantic
and Eastern Pacific name lists are rotated year by year (weather
officials will use the 2002 list again in 2008, with new names
to replace those - like Hugo and Andrew - that have gone to
major, "killer" storms)..
THE HURRICANE OF 1893
[NOTE: The following is an "interview" with Clara Barton, which appeared in Library Information Services Coordinator Dennis Adamss "Answer Man" column in the August 27, 2000 Beaufort Gazette. Verbatim excerpts from Bartons book, A Story of the Red Cross: Glimpses of Field Work, appear here out of their original sequence.]
Introduction: On August 27, 1893, a hurricane made landfall in Georgia just south of Beaufort. The hurricane went on to hit our own Sea Islands (it then followed a curve like an archers bow through the middle of South and North Carolina to die in central Virginia).
Clara Barton (1821-1912) directed the ten-month "Sea Island Relief" efforts in Beaufort following the storm. The founder of the American Red Cross was no stranger to Beaufort, having served as a Union nurse in Port Royal in 1863.
Question: When did the storm hit Beaufort, Ms. Barton?
Clara Barton: On the 28th of August, 1893, a hurricane and tidal wave from the direction of the West Indes swept the coast of South Carolina, covering its entire range of Port Royal Islands, sixteen feet below the sea.
Question: Charles Kovacik and John Winberry (in South Carolina: A Geography) reported "winds with velocities of up to 120 miles per hour". In the absence of modern emergency communications, how many local residents were caught without warning?
Barton: These islands had thirty-five thousand inhabitants, mainly negroes. At first it was thought that all must have perished. Later, it was found that only some four or five thousand had been drowned, and that thirty thousand remained with no earthly possession of home, clothing, or food.
Question: Kovacik and Winberry lowered those grimmer, first reports to "an estimated 2,000 people (who) lost their lives". In Natural Disasters, Lee Davis wrote that "more than 1,000 people were killed" and set property damage at nearly ten million dollars. But how did the survivors evacuate the islands?
Barton: The few boats not swept away took them over to the mainland in thousands, and calls went out for help. In this emergency, Governor Tillman called for the services of the Red Cross ( ).
Question: How severe was the damage when you arrived?
Barton: Indeed, there was more often nothing on the islands to return to. If all had been swept out to sea and nothing remained, it was described as "done gone". But if thrown down and parts of the wreck still remained, it was described as "ractified". A few of the churches, being larger and more strongly built, still remained standing. During the first ten days of our stay in Beaufort, it would have been impossible to drive through the principal streets of Beaufort. They were a solid moving mass, crowding near to the storehouses as possible to get, in spite of the policeman, who kindly held them back.
The contributions of food and clothing had been sent to Beaufort, and were in the warehouses of the perplexed committee of its leading citizens. This had naturally drawn all the inhabitants of the scores of desolated islands for fifty miles to Beaufort, until, it is safe to say, that fifteen to twenty thousand refugees had gathered there, living in its streets and waiting to be fed from day to day.
The shores of the mainland had not been exempt from the ravages of the storm and in many instances had suffered like the islands.
Our first order was to close every storehouse, both of food and clothing, and inform the people that all distributions would hereafter be made from the islands. The local committee had kindly pointed out the most suitable man to take charge of each community, and to him would be consigned the rations to be distributed to each family and person within his charge, for which receipt and distribution he became as responsible as a merchant. In three days there were not people enough left in Beaufort , besides its own, to be hired for a "job of work".
The submerged lands were drained, three hundred miles of ditches made, a million feet of lumber purchased and houses built, fields and gardens planted with the best seed in the United States, and the work all done by the people themselves.
Domestic gardens were a new feature among these islanders, whose whole attention had been always given to the raising of the renowned "Sea Island Cotton" The result of this innovation was that, when we left in July (1894), it was nearly as difficult for a pedestrian to make his way on the narrow sidewalks of Beaufort because of piled-up vegetables, as it had been in October to pass through the streets because of hungry, idle men and women.
The Thursday, Oct. 3, 1959 Beaufort Gazette told of a "four-hour reign of terror" that had visited the county on the previous Tuesday. Hurricane Gracie's "Drenching rains" and 145 m.p.h. winds caused 4 local deaths, damaged 2,394 area homes and wrought $4 million (about $24,000,000 in 2003 value) in property losses. The storm sent 12 shrimp boats "to the bottom," and on Oct. 8 farmer Rudolph Bishop reported nearly $20,000 (about $120,000 today) in crop damage. Officials anticipated a mosquito problem, as well as a fire hazard from the many large piles of debris.
In the October 29, 1959 Beaufort Gazette, 96-year-old John Grayson, who had survived the killer hurricane of 1893, rated Gracie as "not too big a storm." Hurricane Gracie had higher winds, but no tidal wave - the cause of so much death and destruction during the earlier storm. He recalled how tides and rainfall brought the water waist high in some areas, where it stood for days after the storm.
The title of the July 29, 2000 Beaufort Gazette editorial column, "Wimp with Wallop: Scientists Reassess Strength of Hugo", told of a radical downscaling of the storm that struck above Charleston in September, 1989.
Contrary to earlier estimates, Hugo was not a strong Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale , but amounted to a minimal Category 1 storm at the time of landfall. National Research Council of the National Academy of Science recently calculated Hurricane Hugos wind speed at Charleston as only 70-80 miles per hour.
According to the editorial column, the "137-mile-per hour wind recorded at Charleston lasted only a second and was taken from atop a vessel at the navy base in North Charleston. Wind levels are usually measured at levels sustained for one minute or longer."
Richard Shenot, director of the National Weather Service in Charleston in 1989, said that "Charleston did not experience a Category 3 or anything like it."
South Carolina state climatologist MikeHelfert ("Hugo Was a Wimp at Charleston, Scientists Warn" in the July 25 Charleston, SC Post and Courier, page 1) said that "I actually do rate Hurricane Hugo as a wimp in the history of Charleston as far as major hurricanes go. It largely ate pine trees that should never have been planted in the first place. And lots of structures that should never have been built where they were built were removed or modified. (Hugo) was closer to a tropical storm in intensity."
Officials now fear that people who think that Hugo was a true Category 4 storm may underestimate the danger of a major hurricane. They may fail to evacuate the Lowcounty when a major threat arises. Helfert expressed concern that the public may relax its attitude about building codes, construction and insurance policies.
The immediate area of McClellanville (35 miles north of Charleston) experienced Hurricane Hugos most intense winds of 130 miles per hour. Winds at McClellanville actually exceeded the 120-mile-per-hour winds of the catastrophic hurricane of 1893, which killed from 1,000-2,000 people on the sea islands off Beaufort.
Hugo struck with a tidal surge of 12-17 feet and heavy, flooding rains. A ccording to The Journal of the American Medical Association ("Medical Examiner/Coroner Reports of Deaths Associated with Hurricane Hugo - South Carolina" Dec. 8, 1989), the storm cost 35 lives (among the 13 deaths at impact were six drownings and seven fatal cases of crush injuries; 16 people died in fires and from other injuries during the storm, and others were killed by electrocution or falling trees).
Although Hugo first headed straight for Beaufort County, most local residents returning from evacuation found their property unharmed.
Hurricane Hugo brought about big changes in South Carolinas emergency preparedness planning. After assessing the storm damage in inland Sumter County, for example, state officials decided not to commit all their resources to the coastal areas, where they had been concentrated before.
The Great Exodus from Beaufort County on Sept. 14, 1999 was part of the nation's greatest peacetime evacuation (from Florida to the Virginia border, over two million people left their homes, wrote Andrew Philips and Sue Ferguson in "A Stormy Season: Why Big Hurricanes Like Floyd Are on the Rise," Macleans, Sept. 27, 1999). But Beaufort was spared once again: Macleans ("Hurricane Havoc," Oct. 4, 1999) reported that North Carolina suffered most, with about 6,000 people left homeless and $1.5 billion (about $1.9 billion in 2003 value) in farm losses. From start to finish, Floyd killed at least 68 people, 41 of them in North Carolina.