Hurricane Hugo is one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the Carolina coast. The storm hit the coast on September 22, 1989, when I was just two years old. The storm started off the coast of Africa as a tropical depression on the 10th of September. Just two days later the winds of the storm reached 75 MPH making it a hurricane, Hugo. At this point, the storm is still out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and no one is able to predict the impending damage that is about to hit the Carolinas.
Hurricane Hugo first hit land at the Windward Islands about 100 miles south east of Puerto Rico. It hit this island as a category 4 hurricane, meaning it had sustained winds between 131-155 mph. Once the Hugo had passed these islands, 21 were dead, the largest death toll that had been caused by a major storm since 1979. The very next day, September 18, 1989, Hugo strengthened over the water and hit Puerto Rico. It was only a category 3 storm here, but still caused major damage and killed at least 8 people. On September 22, Hugo made landfall in the continental US. Hitting Charleston, SC as a category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 mph. Naturally, most of the damage was on the north side of town. This was due to the spin of the hurricane. The counterclockwise spin of the storm caused a huge storm surge, with waves up to 20 feet tall, flooding the whole north side of the city.
There was a low pressure system in the gulf coast and a high pressure system off the Virginia coast which pinched Hugo, shooting through the Carolinas. The storm rushed through the Carolinas at an average speed of 20 mph, passing through Sumter and Columbia SC until it reached Charlotte. Most of the damage from the storm was found in the eastern parts of the city, but a 99 mph gust was seen recorded atop the AT&T building. The speed of the storm actually might of decreased the flooding because its hard to drop a lot of rain in just a short period of time. In Charlotte the was a estimated $1 billion worth of damage, 2,200 homes severely damaged or destroyed, along with 3 deaths.
Even after Hugo went through the Carolinas, it still had some power left and surged through the Ohio valley causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage along the way. Finally, on September 25, 1989, Hugo travels back out to sea, just south of Greenland where it disappears, but the memories will always be cemented with those Carolinians who lived through the storm.
The Charlotte Observor. September 20, 2009