You might think that such a straight forward question would have an easy answer, but that isn't the case. North Carolina has the potential for more storm-types than many other states because of our geography. With the mountains in the western side of the state, the ocean to the east, and the mid-latitude location, we can experience damaging winter storms, disastrous severe weather events including hail, wind damage and tornadoes, and catastrophic tropical storms.
Last week, I spoke with Julia Jarema at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and her answer was not a surprise to me: it really depends on the year.
Back in 1999, the answer to this question was tropical storms - hurricanes to be exact. Dennis came ashore just below hurricane strength and dropped 10 to 15 inches of rain on southeastern North Carolina on September 4th. Less than two weeks later, on September 16th, Hurricane Floyd made landfall at Cape Fear, NC, as one of the largest category 2 hurricanes on record. The storm added to the already full river basins in the eastern side of the state, and the damages mounted for weeks after the storm as those rivers crested and flooded cities and towns. Jarema said that Floyd is still the benchmark storm for the state with regard to damages, costing $5.5 billion in damages, 52 lives, and causing disaster declarations for 66 of the state's 100 counties. Hurricane Irene hit in October of the same year and added to the tally with another $686 million dollars in damage.
These hurricane damage numbers included agricultural losses and state and federal funds used to help people recover from the devastation. The amount does not include insured people who did not need to ask for help from the government.
In the year 2011, our costliest storms were tornadic. The outbreak of April 16th cost the state $328 million in structural damage only. That amount does not include agricultural damages or the immeasurable cost in lives lost and injuries sustained.
In 2014, the answer to the question would have been winter storms. The February and March ice storms were costly in debris cleanup across the state.
It's still too early to tell what storm type will cost North Carolina the most this year. Maybe it will be the winter storms of the earlier months, and if that happens to be the case, we can count ourselves lucky to have a relatively quiet year.