Jesse Ferrell

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20th Anniversary of The Great Hurricane Hugo

September 22, 2009; 12:53 PM ET

This week is the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo. But why should we remember? With so many powerful storms occurring in the 90's and 00's, it's hard (especially for young people) to see the significance of this monster storm. At the time Hugo stood as the most damaging Atlantic hurricane ever (WikiPedia).


It also personally affected my life and showed me storm damage like I had never seen in the foothills of North Carolina. Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this report where I'll show my damage photos; if you have a story from Hugo, leave me a Comment below.

Remember, this was three years before Hurricane Andrew so the East Coast hadn't seen a storm of this magnitude in some time (Cat 5 over water, Cat 4 at landfall). The storm killed over 70 in the Caribbean and more than 30 in the U.S.

Here are some photos of the damage courtesy the National Weather Service:

This includes this famous before-and-after photo of the Atlantic House Restaurant at Folley Beach, South Carolina:

Because the World Wide Web did not exist then, there are few accounts of the storm online. However a few local media sites have done restrospectives that I will list here:

- Remembering Hugo by the Charlotte Observer (very nice)

- WBTV Charlotte Retrospective

- Photo Archive by

- NWS-Charleston Review (includes interview with the Mayor)






Because Hugo was large and moving fast, his waves caused damage as far away as North Carolina and the high winds struck far inland, moving through the Piedmont and into the mountains of the Carolinas. On Part 2 tomorrow, I'll talk more about the damage that Hugo did to those areas, specifically damage that I witnessed.



Comments (5):


Most people seem to forget the damage it did to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Posted by Dave | September 23, 2009 8:48 PM


That first enhanced satellite view is stunning. I have never seen it before. Wow. On a personal note, although I was eight years old, in my own like I credit the media coverage of Hugo and my parents newly purchased cable box at that time as two major influences on my interest in the weather over the past twenty years. I have clear, vivid memories of windblown palm trees and driving rain being shown on television.

Posted by PreserveJon | September 23, 2009 8:33 AM


Despite being hundreds of miles from landfall, Hugo roared down the St. Lawrence Valley and through Montreal, Quebec on Friday night into Saturday morning back on the 22/23rd of September 1989. I was working driving a truck for the Montreal Gazette newspaper that night. It was an unseasonably muggy and warm night for September, in the mid 70's overnight, with winds gusting over 50mph. Several trees fell and it poured rain most of the night. It was quite an expierience to taste just a fraction of what the storm was all about. Read Lunatic Wind, awesome book on Hurricane Hugo.

Posted by Stephen | September 22, 2009 8:57 PM


My uncle and his family live in Charleston, SC. We lived in Galax, Va, near the NC border. We went to bed the night of 9/21 after speaking with our family in SC and wishing them the best and we'd be in touch.

That morning the rain and wind woke us. We turned on the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley to hear that there was no contact with anyone in the Charleston area as it took a direct hit. Hugo was headed for Charlotte, NC and right for us in Galax, VA. After only a few minutes of hearing this, our power went out.

We watched as the winds increased and the rain fell in sheets like we had never seen before.

We started hearing loud noises like a cannon. We then realized it was the huge oak trees in the woods behind our house as the roots snapped and the trees began falling row by row, like domino's towards our home.

We had a battery powered radio, but, then the local station went out.

Luckily, the storm passed as the closest trees only brushed our home. However, we had 15 trees across our driveway. Once we cut our way out, we began surveying the local damage. We lived in the woods until this storm.

A few days later, we were able to contact my uncle and his family in Charleston. He was at a mobile phone setup by AT&T at their local Wal-Mart. They had a few trees on their home, their car was crushed by a tree. They rode out the storm in their hallway of their brick home. Inspectors were going house to house to ensure that the homes were not blown off their foundations. After that, they decided they would never try and ride out a hurricane, and they haven't.

Grayson county schools were closed for close to two weeks. We were without power for two weeks.

I need to dig out our old photos and scan them.

Posted by Mark | September 22, 2009 7:18 PM

Dave O"Neil:

We lost several large trees in my neighborhood in the mountains of SW Pa as Hugo roared through in the mid afternoon. I have never seen clouds move so quickly overhead as on that day.

Posted by Dave O"Neil | September 22, 2009 11:30 AM

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.