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Myrtle Beach Hurricane History

There are many accounts throughout the centuries of various storms and hurricanes that have ravaged South Carolina and Myrtle Beach. A brief histroy of these instances is detailed below.

In September 1686 a squall that slammed ashore on the South Carolina coast, near present-day Myrtle Beach, was described as: “wonderfully horrid and destructive… Corne is all beaten down and lyes rotting on the ground… Aboundance of our hoggs and Cattle were killed in the Tempest by the falls of Trees.” On the upside, the 1686 storm foiled a Spanish attack on Charles Town by destroying a galley and killing the commander. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining! In that colonial agrarian culture, crops were due to be harvested during the late-summer storm season, hogs were slated for the slaughter, and fall fishing was the backbone of the local economy. If you survived a so-called “September gale,” your next challenge would be to survive the winter.

In 1700, “a dreadful hurricane happened at Charles Town which did great damage and threatened the total destruction of the Town, the lands on which it is built being low and level and not many feet above high water mark. The swelling sea rushed in with amazing impetuosity and obliged the inhabitants to fly to shelter.” A ship out of Glasgow, the Rising Sun, had just arrived with a boatload of settlers seeking to make new lives in the New World. It was dashed to splinters in the port with no survivors.

The Withers family was one of the earliest settlers of the area. In 1822, a strong hurricane came and blew their house into the ocean, claiming the lives of 18 people inside.

This is the kind of anecdotal evidence that constituted record keeping for centuries, derived from old letters and journals found in trunks stashed away in attics. If a storm stopped in briefly to inflict some minor property damage without decimating crops, destroying livestock and devastating ships at sea, its legacy clearly did not live on. Now that we know hurricanes strike our coast on average once every four years, we can safely assume that whatever early records survive are not telling the whole story.

Flashing Forward

On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel made landfall on the border between South Carolina and North Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane. Almost 80% of all waterfront dwellings were destroyed during this hurricane and many low-lying barrier islands were completely flooded. This hurricane was particularly devastating and infamous in that the official report from the area Weather Bureau stated: “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated.”

On September 22, 1989, another Category 4 hurricane made landfall in South Carolina by the name of Hurricane Hugo. This hurricane claimed the lives of 27 South Carolinians and caused extensive waterfront damage, tremendous storm surges and left telephone poles askew and many feet of sand covering roadways. This storm was so severe that at one point, the Weather Bureau reported about 3,000 tornadoes embedded within the hurricane which was to blame for much of the damage.

Over the years, Myrtle Beach has seen several hurricanes come and go and has been fortunate enough to have avoided other devastating storms. The most recent hurricane that came close to Myrtle Beach was Hurricane Irene on August 23, 2011. Though Irene made landfall further up the North Carolina coast, Myrtle Beach did receive its share of tropical storm-force winds, with branches and older trees falling and some low flooding being some of the worst of the damage.

Throughout the centuries, modern improvements have made forecasting hurricanes much easier, and Myrtle Beach is often spared the brunt of hurricanes, and the everyday weather of Myrtle Beach keeps visitors coming year after year. But from the early storms of centuries ago to the infamous Hazel, to more recent storms like Floyd and Fran, hurricane historians always have an eye on the Grand Strand.

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