Remembering the surprising Hurricane Bertha

Posted by Dan Barkin on July 2, 2014 

A tropical storm warning in July means I’m coming up on an anniversary. (Yes, it’s all about me.)

I pulled into town here to work at this newspaper 18 years ago this month. My first day of work was on Monday, July 15, 1996. Three days earlier, a hurricane named Bertha had walloped the coast and counties inland.

Bertha was kind of a surprise. On Thursday, off South Carolina, it looked fairly tame. It was even looking like it might get all disorganized and go away. But after the sun came up on Friday, here’s what happened, according to the N&O story that ran the next morning:

“....Bertha suddenly strengthened and bore in on North Carolina’s southern coast. Its eye, which couldn’t be found at daybreak, reformed as sustained winds rose from 80 to more than 110 mph. Bertha walloped the New Hanover County beaches with ferocious winds and a 20-foot sea surge that knocked out fishing piers in Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.”

All told, by the end of the day Friday, July 12, some 400,000 people were without power, Wilmington was under curfew, and good luck navigating some of the main roads east of 95 because of flooding and uprooted trees.

I thought I was pretty lucky to miss Bertha. As I was driving down from Maryland on the Sunday before starting work, I could see some of the damage. Less than two months later, my luck ran out. Hurricane Fran churned up I-40 in early September, downing what seemed like every third tree in the Triangle, and knocking out electricity just about everywhere. It was hot, humid, and without A/C, miserable.

It was my first big hurricane and I discovered that I hated hurricanes.

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