Jay Barnes answers frequently asked questions
Carolina's and Florida's hurricane history
Jay Barnes, author of North
Carolina's Hurricane History (third edition, June 2001) and Florida's
Hurricane History (second edition, May 2007) and Faces
from the Flood:
Hurrican Floyd Remembered (February 2004). Director of the North Carolina
Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, he often gives presentations about
hurricane preparedness and the history of hurricanes in America. Here
he responds to the questions he is most frequently asked during his public
Q: What brought about your interest in
A: Growing up in Southport, North Carolina, I heard many stories about
the destruction caused by Hazel in October, 1954. I was fascinated by
these stories, but developed a stronger interest while developing
programs and exhibits on hurricanes for the North Carolina Aquarium in
the early 1980s. Since I am not a trained meteorologist, my books are
focused on the impacts of the stormsÑbut they still include
How long did it take to write the
North Carolina's Hurricane History,
which was first published in
1995, took almost two years to research, and a year to write. Florida's
Hurricane History was a more formidable task, as the research
gathered over three years and the writing took about eighteen months.
Every few years, as more hurricanes strike our coasts, these books
require updated editions, requiring the gathering of more weather data,
news reports, personal interviews and photographs.
Q: How did you do your research?
A: As with most books of history, I studied the works of historians who
have preceded me. Over the years, weather historians like David M.
Ludlum and Ivan R. Tannehill have compiled definitive reports on many
the storms of interest. Government records from the National Weather
Service (and U.S. Weather Bureau) were available for hurricanes since
the 1870s, and these reports were obtained during visits to the
Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Countless other
books, magazine articles, government reports, and newspaper accounts
were gathered through inter-library loan and via the Internet (a
complete listing of sources is included in the Appendix of each book).
Personal interviews with hurricane survivors were conducted whenever
possible. But by far, the greatest challenge of these projects was the
search for historical photographs that illustrate the impact of
hurricanes. Recent storms have been well-documented, but photos from
storms of long ago were much more difficult to find.
How does North Carolina's hurricane history compare with that of
other states? What about Florida?
A: North Carolina ranks third, after Florida and Texas, in the
number of hurricane strikes since 1899 (Louisiana and North Carolina
often alternate between third and fourth). Florida has had far more
hurricanes than any other state--more than twice as many landfalls as
North Carolina since 1899.
What was the worst hurricane to strike North Carolina?
A: The answer(s) to this question depend upon the definition of
Hurricane Floyd is the latest candidate. When it made landfall in
September 1999, it was in a downward transition to a category-two
However, with streams and rivers of the eastern counties already filled
from the summer rains, Floyd was a monstrous flood producer that is now
recognized as the greatest disaster in North Carolina history. Before
Floyd, Hurricane Fran, which made landfall near Cape Fear in September
1996, was the most destructive storm in North Carolina history. It left
behind a trail of wreckage from the coast to the Capitol and beyond,
with a total cost estimated to exceed $4 billion. Hurricane Hugo, which
struck the South Carolina beaches and moved through western North
Carolina in September 1989, caused $1 billion in damages in the Tar
state and $7 billion overall. Hurricane Hazel, which struck Brunswick
County in October 1954, didn't match the dollar damages of Fran, but
a more powerful storm. Hazel was a category four hurricane with winds
140 mph and a 17 foot storm surge. Hurricane Fran was a category three.
The hurricane of September 1883 is believed to have killed more people
(53) than any other North Carolina hurricane. Other hurricanes in the
past are likely to have equaled or surpassed Hazel's strength, although
these cannot be verified due to a lack of sufficient weather data. Some
likely candidates include the hurricanes of 1879, 1856, 1769, and 1752.
No category five hurricane is known to have made landfall on the North
Q: What was Florida's worst hurricane?
A: Once again, several storms come to mind. Hurricane Andrew was by far
the most destructive ($30 billion), damaging or destroying more
than any other hurricane in U.S. history until Hurricane Katrina struck
Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005 ($80+ billion). The September
Hurricane of 1928, which made landfall near Palm Beach, was the state's
most deadly disaster. It killed over 2,000 people, most of whom drowned
in the surging waters of Lake Okeechobee. The most powerful Florida
hurricane, however, was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. It blasted the
Keys with winds over 175 mph and established a record low for
pressure: 26.35 inches. It remains the most intense hurricane known to
have made landfall in the United States.
Q: What did you find most intriguing about your
A: I enjoyed reporting on the unusual and often amazing events that
occurred during major hurricanes. These include daring rescues, natural
phenomena, crime sprees, odd relocations, and incredible feats of
survival. Some of my favorites include: the story of Connie and Jerry
Helms, who rode out Hurricane Hazel's storm tide in the treetops of
Beach, North Carolina; the story of the Providence Methodist Church in
Swan Quarter, North Carolina, which was mysteriously relocated in the
Hurricane of 1876; and the incredible ordeal of hurricane researcher
Stan Goldenberg and his family, who survived Hurricane Andrew as their
home collapsed over them.
Q: How did your Faces from the Flood project come
A: In 2002, State Treasurer Richard Moore contacted me and asked if I
would be interested in co-authoring a book on Hurricane Floyd. When the
Floyd disaster unfolded in September 1999, Richard was Governor
Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety, so he was actively
involved with state emergency managers, the highway patrol, and the
National Guard. He worked long hours across the affected counties, and
spoke with many of the floodÕs victims. For this book,
Richard and I
identified over three dozen people for interviews, and their stories
were recorded and edited for Faces from the Flood. In addition, dozens
of the best photographs that document the disaster were collected for
publication. Faces from the Flood serves as a lasting memory and record
of North CarolinaÕs greatest disaster.
Q: Where should I look to learn more about
A: There are many good sources of information available on tropical
storms and hurricanes. For those with Internet access, I recommend the
web sites listed here under Jay's
Picks. One especially
helpful site in
my list is Chris Landsea's Hurricane FAQ, which has answers to many of
the most frequently asked questions about hurricanes. Numerous other
sites provide a wealth of information on preparedness, history, and
real-time data. Dozens of books have been written on all aspects of
hurricane dynamics, history, and preparedness. Some of the most useful
references are listed in the Appendixes of my books. I would also
recommend that those living in areas vulnerable to hurricanes consult
with their local emergency management coordinators to obtain local
floodplain information and evacuation procedures for their communities.
Q: How do I find out about booking Jay for a
lecture or presentation
on hurricane history?
Jay often gives presentations on hurricane history, and has presented
to university classes, meteorology groups, insurance companies,
historical societies, museums, libraries, and national conferences.
Information on scheduling Jay for a slide lecture can be found under
a Speaking Engagement.
Toll-free (800) 848-6224
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