Hermine … and the roads less traveled.
For us. The roads, I mean.
Not looking for sympathy here, but we’ve had to evacuate beautiful Ocracoke Island, N.C., twice in the last five years. Ocracoke is a 13-mile long barrier island south of Hatteras, with Pamlico Sound on the west and the Atlantic on the east, part of North Carolina’s fabled Outer Banks.
The reasons why a meteorologist would schedule vacation time knowing full well Atlantic activity increases later in August are too dull to put in here. Suffice it to say it’s hoped we can move things back a couple of weeks next year.
Back to Hermine, which is a post-tropical cyclone out there south-southeast of Long Island, destined to slow to a crawl off the Northeast coast for a few days even as I type this. It has had an unusually LONG life, beginning as a tropical wave off the west African coast. Of course, I began keeping an eye on this system at its beginning. Earlier this past week, most model track forecasts favored Hermine's hitting the northeast Gulf of Mexico but then bending out to sea safely away from the Outer Banks. But by Tuesday, the “spaghetti charts” (a compendium of all the model track forecasts) began to show a higher confidence forecast that all roads would lead to eastern North Carolina.
The Outer Banks have faced worse than Hermine. However, National Hurricane Center track and intensity forecasts became more consistent by midweek, and I knew that evacuation was a real possibility.
When Hermine approached northwest Florida as a Category 1 hurricane (there is no such thing as a “minor” hurricane if you’re near the approaching center of circulation … think of the fuss we make if a thunderstorm makes a single brief gust of 70 to 75 mph. Then, imagine what it’s like dealing with a prolonged exposure to sustained winds of that intensity.) it was feared the storm surge would pose a major threat to the shoreline to the right of the storm center.
Many Floridians hadn’t dealt with a hurricane in more than 10 years, after Florida had suffered two consecutive hellish years in a row. In fact, the most serious damage was centered in Cedar Key.
It was inevitable Hermine would weaken once its center moved inland as it continued moving toward the northeast. Winds continued to shear at Hermine and push most of its convection to the east and northeast of the center. However, while limited weakening developed as expected, Hermine remained at tropical storm strength – also as expected – with top winds averaging 50 mph.
Thursday, I was spending an annoying amount of time on my iPhone looking at models, NHC advisories and, yes, watching the Weather Channel in our room. Thursday was a very warm and beautiful day that I knew was to be our last beach day. Since the storm was now behaving as expected, I wondered if and when Hyde County, N.C., would make an evacuation call for Ocracoke and whether other NC counties which extended to other parts of the Outer Banks would make such a call. NHC storm surge forecasts indicated waters would rise 1 to 3 feet above the ground, which would be sufficient to produce tidal flooding on the only road (NC 12) that runs from the mainland through Hatteras. In addition, there was the danger of flash flooding from heavy to torrential rain, with forecasts of 5 to 10 inches of accumulation.
As for Ocracoke, the island can be reached and exited only by North Carolina state ferry — a wonderful system. As it turns out, a mandatory evacuation order for Ocracoke was issued later on Thursday, while the sun still shone. We left in a calm steady rain on Friday morning, well ahead of Hermine’s main impacts for later Friday night and Saturday.
Hermine did produce road flooding both from the rain and tidal flooding ahead of the storm from the Atlantic, and then from Pamlico Sound on the west when the storm moved offshore and trailing winds came in from west northwest. The most serious structural damage occurred in Hatteras Village, north of Ocracoke Island, when a tornado touched down and blew six small cottages into the water, with three minor injuries.
Most things are back to normal on the Outer Banks (known in shorthand as OBX) as I write this. These resilient barrier islands have come through pretty well. Someday the islands will disappear, being reshaped and eroded along the way. That is the fate of thin barrier islands. But that day is still well off in the future.
In the meantime, Hermine will produce more erosion and some limited coastal flooding north of Delaware on the Jersey shore, coastal New York City, Long Island and at least southeast New England. We lost a part of our vacation, but my view is Hyde County’s commissioners made the right call. It hurt the island economy with this being the last big summer weekend, but evacuees like us were never in any danger, thanks to that difficult decision.