Every year, from June 1st until November 30th, storm trackers, meteorologists and communities along the coastal regions of the Atlantic, Caribbean, Central Pacific and Gulf of Mexico prepare for hurricane season. The hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific basin varies slightly, running from May 15th until November 30th. While there have occasionally been instances with storms forming as early as May and as late as December, these occurrences are rare. On average, there are somewhere between nine and ten of named storms, either depressions or tropical storms, in any given season. Yet, the average number of hurricanes that form is between five and six storms, two or three of these generally become major hurricanes that showcase tremendous impact along the coastal seaboard.
Perhaps the most frequently told ghost story in Georgetown County is that of the Grey Man. According to numerous documented accounts, he appears on the beach at Pawleys Island prior to hurricanes. Everyone who has seen the Grey Man says that he warns them to leave the island. Residents who are wise enough to heed the Grey Man’s warning always find their homes undamaged after the storm. Encounters with the Grey Man have taken place before every major hurricane that has struck the island for more than a hundred years. Learn more about The Grey Man.
Hurricanes usually threaten several areas and can form almost anywhere within the Tropical Atlantic Basin from the West Coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These areas are considered to be prime locations because the development of tropical storms and depressions occur more often in these locales, with relation to the time of year and necessary environmental conditions. Some of the most common areas hurricanes tend to develop in the Atlantic Basin include the Gulf of Mexico, the Western Caribbean and the Cape Verde Islands. The Gulf of Mexico proves an extremely favorable region for hurricane development because of the warm water temperatures throughout the hurricane season, ranging from 85° F to 90° F. Storms occurring in this region typically move in to the Gulf Coast states, from Texas to Florida. Unlike the Eastern and Central Caribbean, areas not as advantageous for hurricanes because of hostile, upper level winds, the Western Caribbean offers very favorable upper winds and is considered a “hot spot” for storm development throughout the season. Storms developing from this area generally move into the Gulf Coast or along the East Coast. Many consider the Cape Verde Islands the “granddaddy of hurricane hot spots” as it proves the most widespread area for hurricane development. This proves especially true in August, when the water temperatures warm up enough to provide perfect conditions for tropical storm formations. Hurricanes from this region tend to move westward toward the Caribbean and Eastern Coast of America.
Damages from hurricanes result from a number of different aspects of the storm such as the rain, ferocious winds and tornadoes. Hurricanes bring with them large amounts of rain. Huge hurricanes can end up diving out several inches of rain in just one or two days – much of it inland. The increase of rain inland can overflow streams and rivers, and resultantly create flooding that devastates a large area around the hurricane’s center. The most recent hurricanes to affect the Georgetown area were Hurricane Floyd in 1999 which brushed 60 miles to the east with 115mph winds while moving north. However it caused minimal damage in the area. The second was Hurricane Charley, which hit August 14th, 2004. The storm produced winds of 75mph just offshore while moving north. Many trees were blown down and some structural damage occurred.
Hurricanes also produce high sustained winds that more often than not cause extreme structural damage to the surrounding towns and communities. Along with devastating buildings, these high winds can also roll over cars and trucks, blow over trees and can be blamed for a large part of the beach erosion. The winds add to the erosion through blowing sand as well as blowing large waves into the beach. The storms dominant winds also create one of the most devastating aspects of a storm, storm surge. The surge is when huge, strong ocean waves hit the shore because of the strength of winds. Ocean front property is particularly susceptible to such surges. In the unfortunate occurrence that a storm surge collides with high tide, inland flooding and beach erosion can reach devastating levels. Tornadoes are also a side effect of hurricanes, often spawning from high winds. These smaller, more concentrated cyclones cause additional damage. The degree of damage resulting from a hurricane depends on a number of things: whether the storm simply grazes the coastline or comes ashore straight-on, whether the area in question has been hit by the right or left side of the storm and the overall category of the hurricane. Areas affected by the right side of a hurricane sustain more damage because the speed of the wind and speed of motion work in sync and flatter one another. On the left side of a storm, the speed of motion takes away from the wind speed. The combined forces of a hurricane can cause tremendous damage to far reaching cities and can level a coastal area.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the word hurricane comes from colonial Spanish and Caribbean Indians god “Hurican” and the Mayan storm god “Hunraken.” The word originates from the indigenous religions of these old civilizations, who believed that the god Hurican would bring with him evil sprits and big winds. Storms that impact the Southern Hemisphere are referred to as cyclones while pacific tropical cyclones that form west of the international dateline and north of the Equator are termed typhoons. In the Northern Hemisphere, tropical cyclones formed east of the international dateline to the Greenwich Meridian are called hurricanes. Yet, it often proves that it is not what they are called, but what they do that impacts the world around us.
Hurricanes are tropical storms. By definition they are generated in tropical areas of the ocean, near the Equator. In order for a tropical storm to be called a hurricane, there must be constant winds of 74 miles per hour or faster blowing in a counter-clockwise path that rotates around a center coupled with heavy rain fall. By definition, hurricanes are tropical storms that bring along high velocity winds and water. Meteorologists use the term tropical cyclone as a generic word for low pressure systems that develop in the tropics. These systems have the potential to develop into tropical depressions, tropical storms and then if they maintain their strength and pick up speed, they might develop into hurricanes. For a storm to be called a tropical depression it must have maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (17 meters per second). When a tropical depression’s sustained surface winds are equal or faster than 39 miles per hour, it is classified as a tropical storm and generally assigned a name. If the tropical storm’s surface winds reach 74 miles per hour then it earns the name hurricane. Hurricanes are cyclonic and therefore the winds of the storm revolve around a central eye. It is important to note the characteristics of hurricanes. The wind direction of these tropical storms must spin counterclockwise and this is from east to west in the Southern Hemisphere and from west to east in the Northern Hemisphere. Other traits include the systems of low pressure that accompany hurricanes. The eye, or center, of the storm is always an area of low pressure. In fact, the lowest barometric pressures meteorologist ever recorded have occurred inside hurricanes.