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Back Bay Wildfowl Memories: Hurricanes Affecting The Mid Mid-Atlantic 1895-2020

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 This past week, through the magic of television news, we were witnesses to the fury of hurricane Laura as she roared ashore from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Charles, LA and Port Arthur Texas. As a Category 4 hurricane, it is the most powerful storm to strike the United States since hurricane Michael in 2018. Laura was the most powerful hurricane to ever strike Louisiana, surpassing even Katrina, a Category 3 storm that devastated the state in 2005. 

So for me, this begs the question: Could we ever see such a dangerous storm here on the Atlantic Coast? Below is an article from the Washington Post, July 13, 2017. 

 No Direct Hits on Mid-Atlantic Coast since 1851 

 If you stare at a map of where hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since 1851, you’ll notice an enormous void over the Mid-Atlantic coast. Virginia, Maryland and Delaware have never been directly struck. Southern New Jersey has only been hit once. 

Is there a magical shield protecting the beaches where many Washingtonians vacation and have second homes? Will a hurricane ever directly strike these shores? 

It turns out storms usually miss the expanse of coastline from roughly Virginia Beach to Long Beach Island, N.J., because of its geography. Whereas the Outer Banks of North Carolina and southern New England protrude outward into the Atlantic Ocean, the Delmarva Eastern Shore and surroundings are tucked in. 

“The Delmarva area is hard for hurricanes to hit both geographically and meteorologically,” said Brian McNoldy, Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert. “It’s a concave part of the coastline and storms that travel that far north are typically curving to the north or northeast. If the Delmarva Peninsula ‘stuck out’ east of Cape Hatteras, the hurricane landfall map would look quite different there.” 

Of course, just because a hurricane hasn’t made landfall in the Delmarva area in modern records, doesn’t mean this region hasn’t witnessed hurricane and tropical storm conditions. Numerous storms have made landfall just south of this area in North Carolina, and then passed over it. And then there are remnant storms from the Gulf of Mexico, which unload copious amounts of rain. 

Long-time residents no doubt remember storms like Hazel, Agnes, Isabel, Floyd, Irene, and Sandy, none of which were hurricanes when they swept through the area, but still had profound effects on the region. 

While it is true hurricane and tropical conditions can occur a good distance away from the landfall zone, the most severe impacts of hurricanes, including the strongest winds and most severe coastal flooding, do tend to focus where they come ashore. Does the Delmarva area’s absence of direct strikes since 1851 mean it will never witness one’s wrath? Not necessarily. 

Given the right configuration of weather systems, a hurricane could be steered straight into the Delmarva coast. While not technically a hurricane at landfall, Hurricane Sandy — which roared ashore near Atlantic City, came awfully close to striking Delmarva. Not to mention, unofficial historical accounts pre-1851 suggest hurricanes have slammed this region head on. 

“Although one hasn’t hit since 1851, there are records of hurricanes hitting Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula in 1667, 1683, 1693, 1724, 1785, and 1788. So it can happen,” said McNoldy. In other words, this region shouldn’t consider itself immune. It should continue to monitor the tropics and have contingencies for a full hurricane blast. 

By Jason Samenow July 13, 2017 at 4:41 p.m. EDT 

Since it’s construction in 1895, The deWitt Cottage has survived 42 hurricanes without her basement ever becoming wet.. Now that doesn’t mean the cottage hasn’t sustained some damage. In 1998, Hurricane Bonnie tracked directly over the Outer Banks; pushing the eye wall directly over the Currituck Sound and Back Bay. With sustained winds of 90 MPH and gusts to 104 MPH it knocked out power to more than 320,000 customers in Virginia. We were without power for 10 days in the Hilltop area. The chimney on the North side of the Cottage collapsed thru the roof, the second floor, the first floor and ended up in the basement. It took nearly 3 months for the City to repair the damage. This old girl has been a storm survivor for more than 125 years. 

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