North Carolina is notorious for being among the states that get hit by hurricanes a lot.
It is up there along Texas and Louisiana, which, of course, are all way behind the leader in this category—Florida.
The main reason, of course, is the fact that location-wise, North Carolina happens to be in the direct path that most tropical storms naturally take.
Luckily, due to the geography, things in NC are not as intense as what is happening in the Gulf.
According to data, hurricanes hit North Carolina, on average, once every four years, and about 17.5% of all tropical storms that form in the North Atlantic pass near North Carolina.
North Carolina Hurricane Safety Overview
Hurricanes can extend hundreds of miles wide and affect areas inland even if the storm never makes landfall.
Generally, the further away from the coast—or west—you are, the safer you will be.
Hurricanes can affect areas that are more than 100 or 200 miles inland. Locations that are more than 100 miles inland may not have to deal with the full force of a typical hurricane. However, they may still experience heavy rainfall, violent storms, and flooding.
The western parts can get hit by storms formed in the Gulf area every couple of years.
However, those tropical storms are usually severely weakened by the time they reach NC, so they are nothing like what the coastal areas would experience. Overall, the hurricane damage is very limited.
Central parts of NC are also generally very safe.
That said, there can always be unusually powerful storms.
One of the exceptions was Hugo in 1989 which caused a lot of damage and also spawned numerous tornadoes in its wake.
Still, power outages in certain areas can be more common than others, and there can be sustained flooding in lower regions that span between the coastal plains and the mountains.
Even in the foothills, many areas can get intense rain and strong winds.
The areas west of the I-95 are usually impacted to a lesser degree by most tropical storms. If you are near I-95 you may still expect some heavy rainfall, flooding, strong winds, fallen trees, and power outages.
The areas east of I-95 and south of I-40 tend to get hit badly a little more often.
But that’s not all.
The eastern, southeastern, and some of the central parts of North Carolina fall in the Carolina Alley.
North Carolina Hurricane Season
Each year, the hurricane season starts June 1 and lasts until November 30.
The peak hurricane activity for North Carolina is during August, September, and October.
However, North Carolina can be hit by a hurricane throughout the entire active season. There have also been cases where tropical storms have hit NC even during May.
Luckily, hurricanes don’t happen that often, and there’s usually plenty of time to prepare.
The bad ones are not that common. One of the really bad ones that happened recently was Hurricane Fran in 1996.
North Carolina Hurricane Movement Patterns
Generally speaking, there are three main tracks that most hurricanes that hit North Carolina take.
Hurricanes that follow a coastal path
Those come for the south and southeast and follow a path north along the coast.
They may not necessarily result in a landfall but can still affect the coastal areas.
Those can be hard-hitting tropical storms that bring with them strong winds, storm surges, and floods.
Hurricanes that follow the inland track
Those come from the south and southeast and follow a track inland heading north or northwest.
They can be very intense storms that can leave a lot of damage in their wake and even spawn tornadoes.
Extensive wind damage and severe flooding are often observed.
Some good examples in this category are Fran in 1996, Hazel in 1954, and Isabel in 2003
Hurricanes that come from the Gulf
Those are storms that hit the Gulf area and are heading in a northeast direction.
By the time they reach North Carolina, they tend to lose much of their strength. Heavy rain, some wind damage, or flooding can be observed in the western parts of North Carolina.
Of course, over the years, there have been some tropical storms that have taken a bit of unpredictable paths before hitting NC.
Safest Cities in North Carolina From Hurricanes
The safest cities from hurricanes in North Carolina are cities located north, northwest, and west, like Asheville, Boone, Hickory, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill in the triangle area and Odessa are also fairly safe from hurricanes.
Hurricane Risk: FEMA categorizes Asheville as having a relatively low risk of hurricanes.
Historical Data: NOAA’s records indicate that Asheville has experienced 29 tropical storms since 1859, all of which were of very low categories.
Location and Population: Asheville, with a population of just over 94,000, is nestled in the center of the Blue Ridge Mountains, providing natural protection from all sides.
City Characteristics: Asheville is known for its vibrant atmosphere and excellent access to nature. However, it’s important to note the high cost of living and housing in the area.
Typical Storm Impact: Being far enough west, Asheville is generally not significantly affected by most storms. The impacts of tropical storms here are usually minimal.
Hurricane Risk: Raleigh is situated in a zone with a moderate risk of hurricanes, as per FEMA’s classification.
Historical Data: According to NOAA, Raleigh has been affected by 83 tropical storms since 1851. While most were of a very low category, significant exceptions include hurricanes like Fran (1996) and Hazel (1954).
Location and Population: As the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh has a population of approximately 470,000 and is centrally located just west of I-95.
City Characteristics: Offering a balance between a cosmopolitan and a more relaxed lifestyle, Raleigh caters to a wide array of interests and preferences.
Typical Storm Impact: The majority of tropical storms that reach Raleigh tend to lose their strength or dissipate before making landfall. However, residents may still experience low-level flooding, fallen trees, and strong winds during such events.
Hurricane Risk: Greensboro, similar to Raleigh, is categorized by FEMA as having a moderate risk of hurricanes.
Historical Data: Since 1859, about 55 tropical storms have impacted the area. Most of these storms were significantly weakened upon arrival, though exceptions like Fran in 1996 were notable.
Location and Population: Nestled in the central northern part of North Carolina, Greensboro forms part of the Piedmont Triad. It boasts a population close to 300,000.
City Characteristics: Greensboro offers a blend of good amenities and a mountainous feel, catering to those who prefer a city environment without the intensity of a large metropolis.
Typical Storm Impact: While tropical storms are common, they usually arrive weakened. Effects like concentrated heavy rains and strong winds can be expected.
Hurricane Risk: Winston-Salem is deemed to have a relatively low risk of hurricanes compared to its Triad counterparts.
Historical Data: The city shares the regional history of about 55 tropical storms since 1859, with most losing strength before reaching the area.
Location and Population: Part of the Piedmont Triad, Winston-Salem is located in the central northern part of the state. Its population is a little over 250,000.
City Characteristics: Known for its diverse offerings and mountain feel, Winston-Salem appeals to those seeking a balance between city life and smaller town comforts.
Typical Storm Impact: Tropical storms, when they do reach the city, often arrive in a weakened state, with less severe impacts compared to coastal areas.
Hurricane Risk: High Point, like Greensboro, is categorized with a moderate risk of hurricanes.
Historical Data: Sharing the regional trend, High Point has experienced around 55 tropical storms since 1859, mostly in a weakened form.
Location and Population: A pivotal part of the Piedmont Triad, High Point is situated in the central northern part of North Carolina, with a population of about 114,000.
City Characteristics: High Point offers a unique mix of amenities and a semi-mountainous landscape, ideal for those who prefer a quieter, yet not too rural, lifestyle.
Typical Storm Impact: The city generally experiences tropical storms in a diminished state, with the primary concerns being heavy rain and some strong winds.
Hurricane Risk: Burlington is classified by FEMA as having a relatively low risk of hurricanes.
Location and Population: Located just east of the Piedmont Triad, Burlington is a smaller, slower-paced city with a population of over 58,000. It sits in the central northern part of North Carolina.
City Characteristics: Burlington offers decent amenities and provides easy access to both the mountains and the coast. Its proximity to larger cities also adds to its appeal.
Typical Storm Impact: The city generally experiences tropical storms in a diminished state, with the primary concerns being heavy rain and some strong winds.
Hurricane Risk: Durham is situated in an area with a moderate risk of hurricanes, as per FEMA’s assessment.
Historical Data: NOAA records show that Durham has been impacted by 75 storms since 1851. While most of these storms had lost much of their strength by the time they reached Durham, notable exceptions include hurricanes like Fran in 1996 and Hazel in 1954.
Location and Population: With a population of about 285,000, Durham is located in the northern central part of North Carolina.
City Characteristics: Durham is celebrated for its diversity, friendly community, and rich offerings in food and amenities. The city provides a variety of activities, including urban entertainment and outdoor adventures.
Typical Storm Impact: Durham, like Raleigh, typically experiences tropical storms that have diminished in strength. However, the city is still susceptible to stronger storm effects, such as those seen during Fran and Hazel, which can bring significant winds and rain.
Hurricane Risk: FEMA categorizes Hickory as being in a relatively low-risk area for hurricanes.
Historical Data: According to FOAA data, the Hickory area has been impacted by 37 tropical storms since 1859. Most of these storms had weakened substantially by the time they reached Hickory, with notable exceptions being Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and an unnamed hurricane in 1893.
Location and Population: Hickory, with a population of about 43,000, is located in the northwest of North Carolina. It is in close proximity to larger cities like Charlotte and Winston.
City Characteristics: Despite its steady growth, Hickory maintains a small-town atmosphere. The town offers good amenities, scenic views, and a friendly community.
Typical Storm Impact: Generally, tropical storms that reach Hickory are significantly weakened, resulting in minimal impact. However, rare stronger storms like Hugo have shown that significant impacts are possible.
Hurricane Risk: Morganton is also in a low-risk category for hurricanes, as assessed by FEMA.
Historical Data: FOAA records indicate that Morganton and its surrounding areas have experienced 33 tropical storms since 1859, with most of them not being very powerful. The exception was Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which had a significant impact.
Location and Population: Morganton is a small town with a population of just over 17,000, located in the foothills of northwestern North Carolina.
City Characteristics: Morganton is known for its quaint charm and is experiencing growth. It offers a balance between a peaceful small-town environment and access to outdoor activities, without being isolated.
Typical Storm Impact: Like Hickory, Morganton typically experiences tropical storms that have lost much of their strength upon arrival. The impacts are generally mild, but historical events like Hugo indicate that more severe effects are possible, albeit rare.
Hurricane Risk: Charlotte is categorized by FEMA as being in a moderate-risk area for hurricanes.
Historical Data: According to FOAA, Charlotte has experienced 64 tropical storms of varying intensities since 1854. Notable exceptions to the typically low-category storms include Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Grace in 1959, and another significant hurricane in 1893.
Location and Population: With a rapidly growing population of about 879,000, Charlotte is situated southwest between the Uwharrie and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
City Characteristics: Charlotte blends a small-town vibe with the amenities of a large city. It offers a vibrant food scene, diverse attractions, and numerous opportunities for outdoor activities.
Typical Storm Impact: Hurricanes in Charlotte are generally not severe, with most heavy storms bypassing the city. Residents usually need to prepare for heavy rain and strong winds.
Hurricane Risk: Boone is in a low-risk area for hurricanes, as per FEMA’s assessment.
Historical Data: FOAA data shows that Boone has been affected by 26 tropical storms since 1896, most of which were of very low intensity. The most significant storm was Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which had considerably weakened by the time it reached Boone.
Location and Population: Boone is a mountainous town located in the northwest part of the state, with a population of around 18,000.
City Characteristics: Boone is appreciated for its community feel, outdoor recreation options, and reasonable access to amenities. Housing can be expensive, but the town offers a high quality of life. Nearby Blowing Rock, with a population of 1,300, is another attractive small town worth exploring.
Typical Storm Impact: Tropical storms that reach Boone are usually much weakened, resulting in minimal impacts. The town’s mountainous location further helps in reducing the severity of these storms.
Hurricane Risk: FEMA classifies Murphy as having a very low hurricane risk.
Historical Data: FOAA data reveals that Murphy has been affected by 28 tropical storms since 1896, all of which were of very low categories.
Location and Population: Murphy is a small town with a population of about 1,600, located far west in the mountains of North Carolina.
City Characteristics: The town offers abundant opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities, though it may have limited offerings in other aspects due to its small size.
Typical Storm Impact: Given its location and the nature of past storms, Murphy typically experiences minimal impact from tropical storms, with most events being of low intensity.
Hurricane Risk: Hendersonville is in a low hurricane risk area, according to FEMA.
Historical Data: Since 1859, Hendersonville has experienced 29 tropical storms, as per FOAA records. All these storms have been of low category, leading to fairly limited impacts.
Location and Population: Situated west of the foothills, just southeast of Asheville, Hendersonville has a population of about 15,000.
City Characteristics: Hendersonville offers a distinct small-town ambiance, different from Asheville. It boasts good food, bars, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures.
Typical Storm Impact: Similar to other low-risk areas, Hendersonville generally faces limited impacts from tropical storms, mostly experiencing mild weather disturbances.
North Carolina has definitely taken its fair share of tropical storms over the years, and this is unlikely to change.
Overall, central and western parts of North Carolina are safer and tend to be spared by most tropical storms.
In many cases, the most damage and loss of life occur as a result of the flooding that sometimes can follow after a landfall.
Unfortunately, many areas in North Carolina are prone to flooding, especially the eastern parts of the state.
Since flooding can be a major issue, it is vital to check your area before moving, and especially before buying or renting a property. A detailed map and information can be found on the North Carolina Flood Risk Information System.