Snapshot: Many human being consider the large of shore from northeast Florida with southern southern Carolina together a “protected coast,” immune to coastal hazards. Hurricane Matthew now threatens come slam this coast with a storm surge much more severe than almost everywhere else the storm has impacted. The Protected coast is currently the most dangerous place of all, together Matthew turns ago time and also delivers a knockout punch similar to the vicious hurricanes the struck this an ar in the late 1800s.

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Many people consider the large of shore from northeast Florida v Southern south Carolina, consisting of the entire coast of Georgia, as a “protected coast,” immune to coastal hazards (I’ll describe it together the Protect shore throughout this piece).

And with an excellent reason.

The seaside profile in this an ar bends fairly smoothly in a concave fashion, creating a vast basin the water that extends west from the Gulf currently Current. This concave coastline does indeed show up protected contrasted to an ext vulnerable locations to the north and south.


Many civilization consider the concave-shaped shore from northeast Florida come southwest southern Carolina, including the entire coastline of Georgia, a "protected coast," immune to coastal hazards.

Credit: Hal Needham

To the north, the coast of phibìc Carolina juts out right into the Atlantic, exposing it to an ext hurricane strikes. To the south, the Florida Peninsula get out towards Cuba, prolonging itself into a hurricane highway running from the Atlantic come the Gulf that Mexico. But in in between these areas is a protected enclave, permitting folks in Savannah to sleep well at night and also not problem too much about the next hurricane strike.

Hurricane history from the past years seems to assistance this notion. Hurricane Hugo slammed south Carolina to the phibìc of Charleston in 1989, yet the area southern of Charleston endured with little damage. Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida in 1992, far away native this region, and also even hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 inflicted tiny damage, as they passed come the south.

Longer-term scientific analysis of hurricane strikes additionally supports the idea the this an ar is protected. Because that example, once Dr. Barry Keim and also others in ~ Louisiana State University conducted a considerable analysis of hurricane strikes from Texas come Maine, they found that just two hurricanes due to the fact that 1901 influenced St. Simons Island, Ga. No of these storms were significant hurricanes, defined as classification 3 or higher storms.

In this same period, Cape Hatteras, N.C. It was observed 21 hurricanes and three major hurricane strikes. Miami and also Palm beach both observed 21 hurricane strikes and also six significant hurricane strikes in this exact same timeframe.


Likewise, native Cocoa Beach, Fla. Come Tybee Island, Ga., ~ above the border with southern Carolina, just one (Jacksonville Beach) of 5 cities had actually observed a major hurricane since 1901. This study proved a solid geography to hurricane threat with observed hurricane data offering a clear photo of drastically reduced risk along this concave-shaped coast.

As a graduate student in climatology in ~ LSU, I reduced my this on this and also other data-driven studies conducted by Dr. Keim and other scientists. Such research fascinated me. Ns saw good value in it, and I endeavored come do comparable analyses for storm surge, a job I am still functioning on today.

Throughout the years of data-driven analysis, one of the lessons I have learned is the value of feather “beyond” the period of evaluation to check out what’s top top the various other side. Every climate study requirements to start somewhere, and also this research by Dr. Keim and also others beginning in 1901. However, once we look just before that begin date, into the so late 1800s, we check out an amazing pattern emerge along our safeguarded Coast.

(And this is of no fault to Keim and others. My very own storm rise research began with the year 1880, and also I was occasionally asked if that bothered me the I just missed the end on the 1875 Indianola Hurricane that struck Texas. However if I relocated my start date up come 1870, then ns would just miss another major storm. It’s a never finishing cycle.)

The Hyperactive period of the so late 1800s

The late 1800s was a time of hyperactive hurricane task along the protected Coast. Catastrophic hurricanes generally lashed this region with vicious winds and deadly storm surges.

Perhaps the statistic that best sums up the hyperactivity the this time is an obscure reality I found hiding in the earlier of a publication in a Charleston library. In between 1888 and also 1898, eight different hurricanes passed within 75 nautical mile of Hilton Head, S.C.

That’s eight hurricanes in 11 years. The years 1893, 1894 and 1898 all saw two hurricanes in this area.

However, in the 117-year duration extending indigenous 1899 come 2015, only seven hurricanes pass within that area. This way the Hilton Head area, in southern south Carolina near the Georgia border, observed more hurricane task during an 11-year period in the so late 1800s, 보다 it walk in the following 117 years.

The graphic listed below (a picture I snapped with my camera) reflects this pattern. That reveals five hurricanes native 1899 come 1993, however hurricanes Irene (1999) and Charley (2004) need to be added to the list, because they passed in ~ 75 nautical miles of Hilton Head.


Not only did many hurricanes to win this region in the late 1800s, the many severe storms inflicted catastrophic storm surges. The three most severe examples are the back-to-back hurricanes in 1893 and the an excellent Hurricane that 1898.

Back-to-Back Hurricanes in 1893

On respectable 27, 1893, the an excellent Sea Island Storm produced a 12-foot storm tide (surge add to waves) at Savannah Beach, Ga. Water levels reached 18.2 feet from linked storm tide and waves.

This storm ravaged the region from Savannah to central South Carolina, causing thousands that fatalities.

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Here is a quote top top the storm indigenous NOAA technological Memorandum NWS Hydro-19:

“This major hurricane, which source in the Cape Verde Islands, got to the Georgia shore on august 27. It was accompanied by a very high storm tide which submerged the islands along the Georgia and also South Carolina coasts. Between 2,000 and also 2,500 civilization lost their stays on the seaside islands and also in the lowland between Tybee Island~ Ga. And also Charleston, S.C. Property damages along the shore was approximated at $10 million. Damage in Savannah was placed at more than $1 million. Almost every structure on Tybee Island to be damaged and also the rail to the island was wrecked. The highest possible tide known to have arisen in the ar was approximated to have actually a variety of 17.0 come 19.5 ft msl in ~ Savannah Beach.”

Shockingly, another powerful hurricane win the an ar on October 13, generating a storm birds of 14 feet at Pawley’s Island, S.C. And also 12 feet in ~ Charleston.