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Sept. 15, 2018. Editor’s note: Islander Richard Taylor provides an overview of Hurricane Florence’s arrival and departure on Ocracoke on Thursday and Friday.
By Richard Taylor
Compared to mainland Hyde and the town of New Bern, Ocracoke sustained only minor damage and partial power outages as Hurricane Florence bore down on coastal North Carolina Thursday and Friday.
Sure, there were patches of heavy, intense rain and howling, whistling wind into Friday afternoon. There were periodic power outages over much of the village throughout Thursday night. A few broken limbs and tree debris littered central village streets here and there. There was minor flooding in all the usual low spots, but no dreaded sound side flooding, thanks to Florence’s counter-clockwise rotation and position, which kept expected sound flooding at bay.
Unlike the “great Atlantic hurricane” of Sept.14, 1944, or Hurricane Mathew of Oct. 9, 2016, Ocracoke Islanders survived Hurricane Florence practically unscathed. Nor’easter storms in the springtime can often be worse.
Strolling around half-dark village streets in the relentless Thursday night rain gave a surprising feeling of tranquility. Even the sharp sting of rain pellets hitting squarely on my face was undaunting. The solution: just walk backwards.
Even in near darkness, the ever-changing soundscape of blowing and gusting wind was peacefully permeated by the relentless chirp of frogs calling for mates in the water-saturated ditches along the roads, and the seemingly unconcerned cadence of crickets in cedar trees.
Irvin Garrish Highway was a smorgasbord of sounds, as roadside buildings and trees channeled the melodious whirling, whistling wind north westward down the road.
Locals gathered at the Variety Store early Friday morning, swapping tales and anecdotes about their personal storm experiences and expressing relief that it could have been much worse, had Florence not made its last minute westward turn near Wilmington.
Forty-five year island resident Norman Miller explained why Ocracoke got no appreciable flooding, even with a recorded wind gust of 80 mph.
“The wind stayed out of the northeast to east,” he said. “Now it’s going to go to the southeast, and it blows all of the water across and down the sound.
“Since the storm is going somewhat southwest and then go inland, we’re not going to get the backside, which would normally be a northwest wind, which blows the sound back. We’re not going to get that. The tide will be up a little bit, but we’re not going to get a big surge from the northwest. The storm is going to die down once it hits land and moves away from us.”
Miller said Florence doesn’t compare to Matthew.
“No comparison, whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a totally different storm.”
That Florence changed her path was a miracle for Ocracoke.
“Oh my God, did we ever dodge a bullet,” he said. “Everything was in our favor.”
Miller said a wind gauge on the dredge spoil island off Big Foot Slough recorded an 80-mph wind gust overnight. “It’s a good gauge,” he said, “because it’s out there where there are no obstructions.”
Variety Store employee Raul Ibarra said, “We never lost power here at the store until about twenty to eight (Friday morning). We didn’t get any tide from the rain; we never got a flood, so we made out just fine. We were prepared for the worse, but we actually got the best. We were lucky.”
Walking about the store with iPad in hand, proprietor Tommy Hutcherson felt Ocracoke fared as well as any coastal community.
“It blew all day yesterday, but the damage here looks very minimal,” he said on Friday. “All in all I think we made out just fine, compared to New Bern.”
Although NC 12 remained passable all the way to South Dock Friday afternoon, an over wash at MP 78.5 deterred adventure seekers without 4-wheel drive vehicles. The NCDOT message board just north of the Hyde County Convenience Center advised caution due to sand and water on the roadway.
The clanging and whistling sound of sailboat masts filled the air at NPS Docks Friday afternoon. None of the 15 tied-up bobbing boats appeared to sustain any damage.
During the storm, technician Nathan Modlin kept WOVV 90.1 FM listeners up to date with regular storm reports. The station ran on generator power during much of the storm.
Wind gusts and sporadic power outages continued through much of the afternoon and into Friday evening as the last outer bands of Florence made their way west.
No worse for wear, the village returns to ”normal.”