As a native North Carolinian, I’ve had to answer a lot of interesting questions from transplants.
Why is it so humid? Where is Raleigh-Durham? How does one pronounce Fuquay-Varina? (It’s few-kway vah-reena)
One of the more surprising questions I’ve been asked, though, came from my lovely wife.
“Are hurricanes really that dangerous?” my wife, Taylor, said.
An Ohio native, she’s only been in North Carolina for three years and (thankfully) hasn’t seen or experienced the true dangers of a powerful hurricane. And she’s probably not alone.
Nearly half of North Carolina’s population was born elsewhere, The News & Observer’s Abbie Bennett reported in March. So there are likely thousands of people who don’t know what to expect from Hurricane Florence when it comes ashore later this week.
I won’t name names, but I’ve seen some social media posts from people downplaying the seriousness of the storm. Triangle transplants, just because you yawned your way through Hurricane Matthew — which did relatively little in the Triangle — doesn’t mean you’re an expert.
The best sources for information are local meteorologists and people who have lived in North Carolina for 20 years or so. The strength and general path of Florence (a Category 4 storm) is akin to Hurricane Fran in 1996, which was a Category 3 when it hit, causing 24 deaths in North Carolina and more than $7 billion worth of damage.
At the time, I lived in Fuquay and was 9 years old.
You may not trust my recollection of the event. But you should consider taking the advice of another transplant who had never experienced a severe hurricane: my dad.
Having waited out Hurricane Allison — a Category 1 — the year before, my father thought Hurricane Fran would be “no big deal.”
Next thing he knew, three trees had fallen on our house.
“The worst part of Fran was that it came in the middle of the night,” my dad, Tim, recalled on the phone with me.
“People who have been through tornadoes talk about how they sound like freight trains,” he said. “That’s what it sounded like all night. You could hear limbs snapping, trees falling, it was really scary.”
After Fran passed, we discovered that a tornado (yes, hurricanes can spawn tornadoes) had indeed churned up the trees in the empty lot next to us. Fallen trees were everywhere.
“It took us an hour and a half to get to your uncle’s house” in Holly Springs, Dad recalled. “We didn’t have power for three or four days.”
So, without further ado, here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about hurricanes.
What should I expect during the hurricane?
Former North Carolina resident Doug Jackson, who lived here 33 years before moving to Washington, D.C., last summer, might have said it best.
“Honestly, they can expect long periods of boredom with slowly-increasing low-level anxiety punctuated by moments of terror. Have some candles to burn in addition to flashlights, find some sort of game to keep you busy, etc. Maybe get some instant coffee,” Jackson tweeted.
Will my power go out?
Probably. Most of the power lines around the Triangle are above ground and tree limbs will likely fall on them.
How long will it take for power to come back on?
That depends on where you live and how many other areas of town are without power. The worst hurricanes in recent state history —Fran in 1996 and Floyd in 1999 — knocked out power for days or weeks.
What do I need to get through it?
Non-perishable food. Flashlights and batteries. If you live within the city limits, your water will probably be fine and you won’t need bottles from the store.
What should I watch out for?
Fran and Floyd brought flooding and softened the ground, making it easier for strong winds to topple lots of trees. So be aware of which trees could fall on your house or car. Also, stay away from windows that could come in contact with flying debris.
Wilmington resident Kim Gramlisch, who grew up in North Carolina, pointed out on Twitter that you should remove “all potential projectiles” from your yard.
Can I drive in a hurricane?
You absolutely should not. There’s no telling where trees will be down, which roads will be flooded or how other people might drive. This isn’t like driving in snow or winter weather — you don’t get better at it the more you do it.
So, unless you plan on leaving the state before the storm hits, take it from this southerner and stay home.