In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which produced devastating flooding throughout Texas and Louisiana in late August, all eyes were on Hurricane Irma—a massive Category 5 hurricane whose projected path put the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the potential crosshairs until a shift in its positioning caused the incredibly destructive storm to change its route and make landfall along the Florida Keys instead.
Although the Outer Banks dodged a bullet when the record-breaking hurricane the size of Texas struck the Sunshine State, the thin string of barrier islands that hug the North Carolina coast has not always been so lucky. In the past several decades, the Outer Banks have been hit with a slew of storms the wreaked havoc on the popular vacation destination. Perhaps the most destructive hurricane to recently strike the region was Hurricane Matthew, an enormous storm whose effects on eastern North Carolina will be recorded in history books and forever be remembered by those who experienced it firsthand.
Hurricane Matthew originated as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa nearly one year ago, on Sept. 22, 2016. Six days later, the wave became a tropical storm near the Lesser Antilles, and it reached hurricane status the next day north of Venezuela. From there, Hurricane Matthew—the 13th named storm of the 2016 hurricane season and the second major hurricane—rapidly intensified into a Category 5 on Oct. 1, making it the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean since Hurricane Felix in 2007.
On Oct. 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew—which weakened while crossing landmasses throughout the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba—made landfall in South Carolina as a strong Category 1 storm. Tracking northward, Hurricane Matthew moved up the southeastern United States and into North Carolina, bringing with it massive amounts of rainfall that overwhelmed waterways throughout the Tar Heel State and resulted in substantial flooding that prompted evacuations and roof rescues in several cities.
Although storm surge from the ocean and the sounds contributed to some of the damage, the majority of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew was due to prolonged periods of heavy rain. Large portions of the Outer Banks experienced so much unprecedented flooding in low-lying areas that water levels rose to upward of four feet in several neighborhoods, most of which were not prone to flooding, leaving residents immensely unprepared. From Corolla to Kill Devil Hills to Hatteras Island, unelevated homes were submerged by flood waters, vehicles were destroyed, parts of Highway 12 collapsed and washed away, and downed trees knocked out power to much of the region for several days.
Emergency management officials estimated that 4,000 properties were affected in Dare County alone, resulting in $40 million in damages. While no fatalities were reported on the Outer Banks due to Hurricane Matthew, the storm was responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,000 people—20 of which were in North Carolina—as it made its way from the Caribbean to Cape Hatteras before turning and heading once again out to sea. According to National Geographic, Hurricane Matthew was “one of the most destructive storms of recent years” and, according to some experts, could serve as “an indication of extreme [weather] events to come.”