Hold on my friends

Published 9:13 am Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In 1970, singer/songwriter James Taylor, raised in North Carolina, released another in his long line of ballads –  “Fire and Rain.”

Three years later, the American rock group REO Speedwagon released an album and cover song entitled “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”

After experiencing what can only be described as a rough and tumble year in regards to the weather, we all can either relate to or add personal verses to those aforementioned songs.

At 58 years young, I can remember a few storms that left a lasting impact. The first, and most memorable, was Hurricane Donna in 1960, the only one to date that had hurricane force winds to impact every state on the East Coast. At one time over the Florida Keys, Donna reached Category 5 strength with winds over 150 mph and gusts reaching as high as 175 mph.

By the time it reached our coast, Donna was a Category 3 monster (with an eye as wide as 80 miles). It made landfall in North Carolina at Topsail Beach on September 11 (it appears that certain date is popular for catastrophic events).

Following basically the same track that Irene took 10 days ago, Donna barreled up our coast and left a trail of death and destruction.

I remember my dad huddling the family together in our living room. I was seven years old at the time and scared out of my wits; I thought we all would die as the winds shook our tiny home in the Pinetops community of Northampton County. At one point we heard what we thought was the roof coming off our home. The next morning we discovered the hurricane spawned a tornado that tore through the woods behind our house. That twister apparently rose back up in the air just high enough to destroy the chimney (red bricks were scattered all over our front yard ) and then touch back down in the woods in front of our home.

Based upon today’s dollars, Donna is the ninth costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricane in the nation’s history, checking in at $26.8 billion. Topping that list at $157 billion is an unnamed hurricane that struck Miami, Fla. in 1926.

We had a busy hurricane season in 1996 with Bertha, then Fran, but both basically tracked well inland in our state and inflicted more damage in the Piedmont area.

Ditto for 1999 – the year of Mr. Floyd. First came Hurricane Dennis on Aug. 30, a storm that hung for days off our coastline and wound-up leaving nearly 20 inches of rain in the Ocracoke area. I remember driving home on I-95 from Fayetteville where I covered a Chowan football game. It was raining so hard and fast that traffic was creeping along at 20 mph.

Then Floyd paid us a visit, making landfall as a Category 2 hurricane on Sept. 16. The winds weren’t that bad here locally, but Floyd’s 15-to-20 inches of rain on a ground already soaked by Dennis two weeks earlier caused catastrophic flooding. Floyd became the measuring stick by which all ensuing “wet” hurricanes will be measured. Damage statewide was in excess of $3 billion with over 7,000 homes destroyed and another 56,000 damaged. We lost 35 Tar Heels thanks to Floyd, primarily due to the flooding. Personally, it was my first major weather event to cover as a journalist.

On Sept. 11, 2003 (there we go again with 9-11), Hurricane Isabel hit its peak with 165 mph winds. Seven days later, a weakened Isabel (winds of 105 mph) slammed into the Outer Banks. We had hurricane force winds here locally…trees were down everywhere; homes and businesses were smashed. It took months to recover.

Now with Irene, an earthquake, choking smoke from the Dismal Swamp fire and the April 16th tornadoes in Bertie and Hertford counties under our belts, what else does 2011 hold in store? Dust off the old REO Speedwagon and James Taylor albums and hold on my friends.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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