Mint Hill man rides out Hurricane Arthur ... in middle of ocean

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comJuly 3, 2014 

A Mint Hill man didn’t have to chase Hurricane Arthur to experience the storm’s fury.

He just waited for the storm – in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Richard Neal is owner of Frying Pan Tower, an old U.S. Coast Guard tower anchored about 35 miles east of Wrightsville Beach, and on Thursday he provided play-by-play on his Facebook page as the hurricane roared almost directly over his station.

“This is quite a storm,” Neal said at one point Thursday evening, after a weather station at his tower registered a wind gust of 99 mph.

“We just entered the eye of Arthur!” he wrote in a Facebook post shortly before 6 p.m.

Neal paid $85,000 for the rusting station in an auction in 2010, converting it into a bed-and-breakfast for people who love the ocean and those looking for an up-close fishing expedition. The station, which is 140 feet off the ocean surface, was abandoned by the Coast Guard in the late 1970s.

Neal, a software sales engineer, decided to ride it out Thursday on his tower.

As the center of Hurricane Arthur approached during the afternoon, Neal continued to provide updates on Facebook. He reported 24-foot waves about 4 p.m. and then the 99-mph gust nearly two hours later. About the same time, he said a government buoy apparently broke loose from its anchor and drifted by.

“NOAA Buoy No. 16 just slid past us, heading toward the Wrightsville beaches,” he reported on Facebook.

A short time later, he posted video of the buoy being carried away by huge waves.

His reports quickly caught the fancy of weather followers and national media. ABC News showed the video on its evening news, and Neal’s video was the rage on weather Internet bulletin boards.

“This is like a getaway to me,” Wood said in a 2012 Charlotte Observer story. “I got up at 7:30 and worked until the sun went down. It’s fun being out in the middle of the ocean, nothing but blue water all around, and doing restoration.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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