Since North Carolina and South Carolina lie on the eastern seaboard, they are often affected by hurricanes, especially during the busy Atlantic hurricane season. While both states are considerably less vulnerable to hurricanes than Florida—since their coasts are also considerably shorter—you should still make sure to prepare for severe weather if you're planning a coastal getaway to the Carolinas from June through November during the hurricane season.
Atlantic Hurrican Season: What to Expect
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year, with the peak period from early August through the end of October. The Atlantic basin includes the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on historical weather records dating back to 1950, the Atlantic region will typically experience 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour. Additionally, six of these storms will turn into hurricanes with winds upward of 74 miles per hour, three of which may become category 3 or higher with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
However, it's important to note that most of these major hurricanes do not make landfall in the United States; for example, 2010 was an extremely busy season, with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes, yet no hurricane and only one tropical storm made landfall in the U.S. that year. Additionally, there is little to no correlation between the total number of storms and those that make landfall in any given season.
How Often Hurricanes Hit the Carolinas
On average, one to two hurricanes (or more specifically, 1.75 hurricanes) make landfall on the U.S. East Coast every year. Of those, 16 percent have swept North Carolina and 11 percent have reached South Carolina. Since 1851, 47 hurricanes have made direct hits on North Carolina, and 31 have landed in South Carolina.
A total of 12 category 3 or higher hurricanes have made landfall in North Carolina: San Ciriaco in 1899, unnamed storms in 1879 and 1933, Great Atlantic Hurricane in 1944, Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Ione in 1955, Hurricane Helene in 1958, Hurricane Donna in 1960, Hurricane Diane in 1984, Hurricane Emily in 1993, and Hurricane Fran in 1996.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has only had six Category 3 or higher hurricanes make landfall: three unnamed hurricanes in 1885 and 1893, Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Gracie in 1959, and Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
How Hurricanes Affect Your Travel Plans
Statistically, there is a very low risk that a storm will impact your vacation. Some years, however, are worse than others, and it's hard to predict the exact number of storms that will reach the coasts in any given year.
Still, if you're planning to vacation in the Carolinas between June and October, you might want to consider buying hurricane insurance. Typically, if your trip is canceled or interrupted due to a storm, you can be refunded up to the limit of coverage. Note that in most cases, insurance must be purchased more than 24 hours before a hurricane is named. Also, most hotels and airlines will offer refunds or a rescheduled itinerary if a hurricane interrupts your planned vacation.
Stay on Top of Tropical Storm Warnings
If you're traveling to a hurricane-prone destination, download the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross for storm updates and a slew of helpful features. You can also follow weather updates from The Weather Channel, Accuweather, and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), among others.
When traveling to the coasts of North and South Carolina during the Atlantic hurricane season, be sure to check the weather forecast before you head to the beach for the day. Additionally, keep your cell phone's volume on and emergency alerts activated—even when you're at the beach—in case the forecast suddenly changes.