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Has the eye of a hurricane ever passed over Wilmington?

Ben Steelman
Eye of a hurricane

Some hurricanes have eyes, or centers, that are so wide and so well-defined, that eyewitnesses claim to see blue skies or even stars overhead. (File photo)

Yes, but exactly when can be hard to say, according to Jay Barnes, author of “North Carolina’s Hurricane History.”

For example, the eye of Hurricane Fran, which made landfall at Cape Fear, followed the Cape Fear River north and almost certainly passed over Wilmington on Sept. 5, 1996, but probably not many folks riding out the storm noticed.

Some hurricanes have eyes, or centers, that are so wide and so well-defined, that eyewitnesses claim to see blue skies or even stars overhead. Fran, however, had a relatively “ragged” eye, Barnes said, and provided little relief from the winds.

Also, what some people think is an “eye,” often isn’t. Many old-timers will swear that the eye of Hurricane Hazel passed over Wilmington in 1954. However, Barnes — who grew up hearing old sailors’ Hazel stories in Southport — says it’s just not so. Hazel made landfall at Little River, S.C., he said, and its documented track took the eye over Brunswick County, not Wilmington and New Hanover County. The city could have indeed experienced a lull in the storm, but according to meteorologists, it wasn’t the eye.

Of other recent storms, Hurricane Floyd — which also made landfall at Cape Fear on Sept. 16, 1999 — had an eye that passed over Wilmington or came close.

Hurricane Diana, in 1984, made landfall near Bald Head Island and its eye passed over Southport.

Bertha’s eye passed between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Island on July 12, 1996 — the first July hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast since 1908.

Hurricane Bonnie, in August 1998, followed a similar track to Bertha’s, making landfall near Cape Fear but grazing the coast rather than heading inland, Barnes said.

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7 Responses to “ Has the eye of a hurricane ever passed over Wilmington?”

  1. On August 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm lauriesannie wrote:

    Indeed, in 1996, my husband got the idea to make biscuits during the hurricane. When the power went off, he left the biscuits in the oven to finish. When the “eye” passed over our area, close to Wrightsville Beach, he left the house and walked to a neighbor’s to share the biscuits. He didn’t get wet and neither did the biscuits.

  2. On August 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm Jim wrote:

    I remember a Hurricane passing through Wilmington in the mid-late 50’s – Connie? The wind blew like hell for a while then everything stopped – the sun came out and then the wind and rain started up again – the opposite way. We were in Lake Forest. If this wasn’t the eye -what was it?

  3. On August 12, 2011 at 8:17 am Philip Zeman wrote:

    I agree with Jim as I too remember a hurricance back in the 50’s where the wind quit blowing and the rain and clouds cleared to beautiful sunshine and blue skies. I remember that my father and I walked to my uncle’s house to check on him and his family (phones were still out), stayed about 30 minutes and walked back to our house. I don’t remember how much time passed once we were home but the hurricane started again. We lived on Market Street directly in front of Forest Hills Drive.

  4. On August 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm David Colwell wrote:

    I have a vague memory of going outside of my home in Winter park with my parents as the eye (?) of Hurricane Donna passed over in the evening. Early 60’s, I think.

  5. On August 25, 2011 at 11:48 pm k-dawg wrote:

    yeah, floyd’s “eye” passed over wilmington, at least it did around 1am or so near 17th st ext and college rd. i went outside my house and checked for flood and wind damage. saw a few stars overhead. then the wind started picking up soon from the opposite direction (northeast). very eerie…

  6. On October 5, 2016 at 10:06 pm Erika Carlson wrote:

    I lived in Wilmington during Hurricane Diana and I remember the eye passing overhead, or at least I think so! It was so still! I was only 10 though, so who knows!

  7. On September 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm Earl Goodman Jr wrote:

    I too remember an eye of a hurricane passing over Wilmington in the mid 50’s. I was an avid storm tracker and had tracked it coming over the city. When it arrived, I stepped out into the calm and noticed the circulating clouds on the eye wall and was fascinated. When the wind started up again, I came in the house. Also, I remember my uncle driving over to our house while we were under the eye. I think it might have been Diane in 1955.

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