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July 8, 2014

Reader question: What part of NC is the hottest?

Based on climate records and heat index, the hottest town in North Carolina might surprise you.

Everyone wants bragging rights. Raleigh tops at least one list of best places to live annually. The Triangle has some of the best schools in the country. North Carolina’s beaches and mountains are some of the most beautiful. So, it doesn’t surprise me when I receive a reader question like this one. There are a few ways it could be answered, but in honor of the temperatures and rising humidity this week, let’s tackle it by looking at the heat index, which combines heat and relative humidity to tell us the temperature that the air feels like.

The State Climate Office of North Carolina is a fantastic source for records like the ones needed to answer this question. I looked at the history of Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington, Cherry Point, and Jacksonville – the cities on their list of records that would be the most likely candidates for the hottest spot in the state.

Despite Charlotte’s reputation as a hot spot for night life and sports teams, it came in fifth place. Since 1972, Charlotte has registered 1,648 hours with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 2011 had the highest number at 133 hours, but Charlotte’s average number of hours with the heat index at 100 or higher is 38 per year.

The Triangle registers in fourth place with heat index counts from RDU since 1972 showing a total of 3,011 hours over 100 degrees. Our hottest year by this standard was in 2010 with 175 hours and we average 70 per year.

The Marines are known for their toughness, and rightfully so, but Cherry Point does not top the list. Instead it comes in third with 3,783 total hours during the same period and an annual average of 88 hours. In 1990, they topped out with 288 hours with a heat index over 100 degrees.

Jacksonville is not the big winner either, but it comes close with 4,316 hours since 1972. Interestingly, you have to go back to 1981 to see the year with the most hours over a 100 degree heat index. That year delivered 282. Jacksonville’s annual average is an even 100.

May I have a drum roll please… the hottest city in North Carolina (of those on the State Climate Office’s records) is Wilmington! The town registered a total of 4,615 hours with a heat index over 100. Two years tied for the hottest: 1993 and 1999 both recorded 259 hours. Annually, Wilmington averages 107 hours with the 100 plus heat index.

Of course, there are likely other towns in North Carolina that are hotter than these five, but we don’t have easy access to their records if they’ve even been kept. Also, it is probably wise to point out that these records only go back to 1972, so if you have a grandparent who swears that his or her childhood was hotter in their rural town than it has ever been in your lifetime, they might be right.

*7/14/14 Correction: Information has been updated to correct the units of measurement from days to hours. The rankings have not changed since the quantity of units did not change.

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