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Over the 30 years that I have been here, we had one near miss . Hurricane Hugo skirted the South Carolina coast in September of 1989 and made landfall a few miles north of Charleston. This was very fortunate because it is better to be on the south side of a hurricane than on the north side. The winds in a hurricane circulate counter-clockwise and the dangerous storm surge occurs in the northeast quadrant of a hurricane. Charleston still suffered severe damage but not nearly as much as if the storm had hit to the south of the city.
So why doesn’t Hilton Head get more hurricanes? Well the answer is part luck but mostly geographical in nature.
The East coast actually makes a westward “bend” starting near Daytona Beach, Florida and this bend extends all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Hilton Head rests in the middle of this “bend”. In fact, if you look at a map of the US, you will see that Hilton Head is situated on the same longitude as Cleveland, Ohio!
This far west location of the island prevents hurricanes from hitting our island.
The location of the gulf stream plays an important role in deciding the path of a hurricane, too. The gulf stream is a warm “river” in the Atlantic Ocean that starts in the Caribbean and flows northward towards the North Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes gather their strength from warm water and they LOVE the gulf stream!
If a hurricane does come towards the Carolina coast, the location of the gulf stream (approximately 40 miles off our coast) tends to influence the hurricane to veer north and follow the path of this river of warm water. This is why the Outer Banks has suffered numerous hits over the last century.
In short, hurricane preparedness is always at the top of our list here on Hilton Head but the above geographical nuances of our beautiful island are important to understand. If you have any questions about hurricane preparedness, please contact me at 843.683.1111 or contact me by email here.