Date: July 12, 1996
Lowest Pressure: 28.90 inches of Mercury, 978.7 millibars
Hurricane Bertha was the first of four strong hurricanes that affected Eastern North Carolina during the mid to late 1990s. Within the span of just four years Hurricanes Bertha, Fran, Bonnie, and Floyd struck the southeastern corner of the state. This period of extreme hurricane activity has a parallel in history to the period 1954-1955 when Hurricanes Hazel, Connie, Diane, and Ione hit the area.
Bertha was a Cape Verde hurricane that formed in the tropical Atlantic about halfway between Africa and South America during the evening of July 4th. As a tropical depression, Bertha was immediately noteworthy for its early date of development (normally the Cape Verde hurricane season doesn't begin for over another month) and for its proximity to the equator, just 9.8 degrees north latitude. Bertha achieved hurricane strength while about 200 miles east of Guadeloupe Island on July 7th, and became a category 3 major hurricane early in the morning on July 9th about 200 miles northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Bertha then moved northwest skirting by the eastern Bahama Islands July 9 and 10, then turned north toward the Carolinas. Landfall occurred on Bald Head Island, NC during the afternoon of July 12th with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Bertha's eye moved north across eastern New Hanover and Pender counties, and the storm weakened as it moved across Kinston and Greenville during the evening.
In Wilmington winds gusted to 70 mph, but winds were measured as high as 92 mph at Wrightsville Beach and 95 mph on Figure Eight Island. Storm total rainfall was 5.56 inches at the ILM airport. According to reports from the Wilmington Star-News, Bertha heavily damaged or destroyed a number of piers along the Cape Fear coast including the Kure Beach Pier (destroyed), Johnnie Mercer Pier (50 feet washed away), and the Ocean City Fishing Pier at North Topsail Beach which lost 200 feet. Curfews were enacted to prevent looting after the storm, and Carolina Power & Light reported 84,000 customers without power at the height of the storm. Significant damage occurred to sand dunes at the beaches: On Wrightsville Beach about 50 feet of the sand dunes were lost, while Kure Beach and Surf City suffered significant sand losses too.