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Historic Hurricane?
Let’s Look at the Facts

HURRICANE MATTHEW & CAROLINA GOLF

By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC

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Those contemplating a move close to the Southeast coast might consider the damage from October’s Hurricane Matthew and decide to head for the hills. They need not.

The facts are that Matthew is pretty much an unprecedented event in that it covered such a wide territory along the coast, from Miami to the north Atlantic. Customarily, an Atlantic storm catches a ride on the Gulfstream 75 to 100 miles off the coast and heads on a more northeasterly path than Matthew, which wobbled its way along the coast on more or less a northern path before bouncing around on its way up the coast. This is why, historically, more hurricanes have made landfall on Long Island, NY, than in Savannah, GA.

Look on one of the many historical hurricane maps at the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website, and the darkest areas signifying the most repeated landfalls are near Miami, along southern Long Island and in the areas of North Carolina that jut the furthest into the Atlantic. The coastal areas of northern Florida and southern Georgia are lightly colored, signifying the relative infrequency of hurricane landfalls.

Indeed, Savannah is probably the safest coastal city when it comes to hurricane threats; look at a map of the east coast and you will note Savannah’s location notched deep into the eastern seaboard.

Until Matthew, only one hurricane packing winds approaching 100 mph slammed into Savannah in the prior 100 years, and that one started in the Gulf of Mexico and traveled across the panhandle of Florida and the state of Georgia before whacking Savannah in the backside. Savannah should send thank you notes during hurricane season to Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island, so called “barrier” islands for the protection they provide areas like Savannah.

Dr. Bob Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, and Jack Williams, founding editor of the USA Today Weather Page, published a handy and sobering book 15 years ago called Hurricane Watch: Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth. In its appendix, the pair indicates the probability of a hurricane hitting selected cities from Brownsville, TX, all the way up to Bar Harbor, ME. Their chart presents the probabilities of any hurricane (winds greater than 75 mph) and the probabilities of a “major” hurricane (one packing winds of more than 111 mph).

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Only two cities have a 10% chance or greater of a major hurricane, and they are Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, FL with 11.1% and 10% respectively. Put another way, the authors say, Miami can expect 11.1 major hurricanes every 100 years and Ft. Lauderdale 10 major hurricanes in that time period. (On the strength of its reported wind speeds, Matthew certainly counts as a major hurricane; for Miami, that’s one down and 10 to go for the next 99 years.)

Conversely, the odds are good that most North and South Carolina coastal residents won’t see the likes of Matthew for several decades. While Charleston and Myrtle Beach, SC, and Wilmington, NC, all have a 10% chance of any hurricane coming ashore in their areas, Myrtle Beach can look forward to only 2.6 major hurricanes in 100 years (Charleston 2.2 and Wilmington 2.1).

Cape Hatteras, NC, notorious for its exposure to the elements, is another story, with a 21.3% chance of any hurricane landing and a 5.3% chance of it being a major one.

Matthew’s effects on Savannah and Jacksonville, FL, are virtually unprecedented, beating the odds of a major hurricane landing in either of those cities. Hurricane Watch indicates that fewer than two major hurricanes will come ashore in those cities every 100 years. Residents there in October have been witnesses to history, notorious though that achievement may be.

In summary, those who are considering a move to the coastal areas of the Carolinas should not over-react to the recent disaster named Matthew. Thanks to the early warnings from The Weather Channel and other such services, you are personally safe from harm. And thanks to the odds, your coastal home should be secure as well, especially if you choose a low risk location.