There’s not much to do today on the Charleston Coast. All dunes properties’ offices closed at noon in preparation for tropical storm Hanna. So, more rain and later tonight, some windy conditions. And although a tropical storm is not that big a deal; contrary to the TV weather people who make it out to be horrific, (as they broadcast, unshaven, and hooded, from the beach, in between lunestra commercials) we’ve learned “better safe than sorry”. Most of Charleston is hunkered down, with our extra flashlights, candles and gallons of water. No one is leaving, this time we’re just staying put. Videos have flown off the shelf at Blockbuster and I’d wager the liquor stores have had their run on inventory as well.
Many of us who where here nineteen years ago, when Hugo blew us out of the water, are retelling our personal experiences with some pride, that is, when we are not calming down our “new to Charleston” friends, who have not yet been through the anxious anticipation of a hurricane. Oh, one little Charleston fact: from the perspective of those who have grown up in Charleston, “new to Charleston” usually means less than twenty years…at least. “How long ya’ll been here?” is the first question out of our native resident’s mouths, whose last names coincidentally are the same names of our streets on the Peninsula. But I digress.
This is Charleston; known for our genteel hospitality but also our pride in surviving adversity (see: The War of Northern Aggression) and that includes our hurricane experiences, since they date our very important tenure in this holy city. “I remember hurricane Grace, and Hazel”- very impressive (in the 50’s), and hurricane David; not so impressive (the 90’s-too recent). But Hugo was the humdinger of our times… the “hundred year storm”, which is the benchmark FEMA sets our flood elevation standards by in the Lowcountry.
At the time of hurricane Hugo in 1989, I had been selling South Carolina coastal real estate for eight years. We lived within Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms, just outside of Charleston. Since my Myrtle High School days, I have always been selling something on the beach; rafts, umbrellas, or suntan lotion. At that time I was disguised as a lifeguard. So the transition to resort homes and condominiums was natural. And with my “vast” eight year experience in oceanfront and beach properties sales, I had on many occasions explained to my concerned customers the probability of a hurricane’s chances of landing a direct blow to our island.
Here is how the explanation went: “As storms cross the Atlantic, or form in the Caribbean, they have a 50/50 chance of either heading towards into the Gulf or Mexico or turning north and heading up the Atlantic coast. (so far, so true). When they turn north, they can take one of four courses (also true):
1. turn out to sea, following the gulf stream, remaining in the open waters. No harm no foul ;
2. hit the Florida coast and break up or cross to the Gulf;
3. hit the outer banks, which sticks out like a sore thumb; or
4. move into the area called “long bay” on old maps. Now we call long bay the Lowcountry and it stretches from Jacksonville to Wilmington, with Charleston almost the midpoint of “long bay”.
Still, all very factual and accurate. “That amounts to 12.5% of a 50% probability”, I would explain to my potential neighbors. And I would take it one step further. “The concentrated eye of the improbable storm would need to be at least within 100 miles south of us to be really damaging and it would need to be at least a category two. Anything north of us would be minimal. (Also true) That’s one fifth of a 500 mile “long bay” coastline. So, do the math, 25% of 50% equals 12.5%. 20% of 12.5% amounts a 2.5% chance of a damaging direct hit; not something to keep one up at night, especially if your insurance is “paid up”.
You must admit, a very logical, impressive, probability type explanation. But that was before hurricane Hugo, when the eye of that Cat 5 passed directly over my roof on the Isle of Palms. Nowadays, I am a little less learned on the subject. So, we close early, shut it down, some leave town and probably nothing will hap… well, never mind.
– Randolph Walker