WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)

How Much Will Hurricane Irene Will Damage Outer Banks?

By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
8/26/2011, 6:19:43 AM

Today is the day, a couple days ahead of a storm's landfall, when the models start to point to a very bad situation for a particular piece of land. It forms a pit in the stomachs of the meteorologists here at AccuWeather, because most of us have visited the East Coast. If it's not our beach that could be destroyed, it's one of our cohort's. Today, it is the new beach that I fell in love with just two months ago: The Outer Banks.


The scene I photographed then in Duck, NC, shown above, will likely be under water and sand this weekend and it's hard to predict how the vegetation will recover. We are predicting 7-10" of rain, a 6-8 foot storm surge, and waves to 30 feet on top of that, which could inundate most of the island. The key will be whether the ocean can breach the dunes, and that, we could normally see on the live Duck Pier Cam, which is visible from the photo above, and is linked on my East Coast Webcams page. Unfortunately, the Duck Pier cams were taken down Tuesday, possibly ahead of an evacuation of the island.


You'd think the above forecast could pretty much flatten the island. But it turns out the Outer Banks are designed to withstand a big storm. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel did major damage where it hit to the south of Duck (including cutting the Outer Banks in half), but the town more or less survived intact. My experience with the beach has been that most homes (and trees) there can withstand a Category 3 hurricane without a lot of damage, assuming they don't get pounded with storm surge.


Unfortunately, Irene is predicted to be a borderline Cat 3/4 when she hits, and will hit closer to Duck than Isabel did, and that's why wind gusts (125 mph vs 100 with Isabel), surge (6-10' vs. 4-6'), waves (30' vs. 20') and rain (6-8" vs. 4") are higher. The good news is that, to cut the island in half, Isabel had to make a direct, perpendicular hit (black arrow below). Irene won't, and will be over some land before the surge reaches Duck. But still, I think cutting the island in half just to their north is possible.

The "hospital gown scenario," where the front is protected, but the back is wide open, is a problem at Duck, NC. There are fairly high dunes facing east, but on the sound side, the businesses and houses are right up against the water. When the second surge comes from that direction, as the storm's winds pass by, these areas will be flooded too. Counting the rain, when it's all said and done, much of the low lying area of Duck will probably be under water.

And to think, I just fell in love with the little town two months ago. Hopefully the forecast will shift slightly and it won't be at ground zero, though I wouldn't wish the damage on any one else's beach.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)