HURRICANE EMILY - AUGUST 31, 1993 - 20th Anniversary
Hurricane Emily was the
fifth named storm, first hurricane, and only major hurricane of the 1993 Atlantic hurricane
season. The tropical wave that spawned Emily
moved off the West Coast of Africa on August 17, 1993 and into the Cape Verde Islands. Five days
later, a tropical depression formed about 700 miles east-northeast of Puerto Rico. The system moved
northwest for 2 days before encountering weak steering currents and becoming stationary as it began
to intensify. A ridge eventually built north of Emily on August 26, causing the system to move
toward the west while 900 miles east of Florida. After briefly becoming a hurricane on August 26,
the storm fluctuated in intensity between a hurricane and a tropical storm as it moved
west-northwest. As Emily rotated around the ridge, it moved more to the
north. Intensification continued until late on August 31, when the hurricane clipped the
Outer Banks as a Category 3 storm. Up to 10 feet of storm surge ran ashore on the Pamlico Sound side
of Hatteras Island. The storm moved quickly away from the area and by September 2, it weakened to a
tropical storm as it moved toward Bermuda and the Azores. Emily dissipated on September
The National Weather Service office in Buxton, NC recorded a peak
one-minute wind of 52 knots with a gust to 85 knots, but the measurement was disrupted just before
the strongest winds are believed to have occurred. A private citizen in Buxton recorded 65 knots
with a gust to 93 knots. These strong on-shore winds drove flood waters over the Sound side of
Hatteras Island. The maximum rainfall recorded was 7.5
inches at Buxton with very little observed further west. Two swimming deaths in rough surf
occurred at Nags Head, North Carolina on September 1. A preliminary damage estimate for North
Carolina is $35 million dollars, mainly on Hatteras Island. There were 553 dwellings deemed
uninhabitable. About 160,000 persons were evacuated from the barrier islands of North
Hurricane Emily moved across the Outer Banks as a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale on
the evening of August 31, 1993. A portion of the western eye wall passed over Hatteras Island and the surrounding
waters, with one-minute surface winds estimated between 65 and 100 knots. Analysis at the Hurricane
Research Division, indicated surface winds speeds as high as
100 knots over Pamlico Sound. This caused strong on-shore winds on the Pamlico Sound side of
Hatteras Island and the accompanying storm surge coastal flooding was as high as 10.2 feet above
normal tide levels at Buxton, NC. The flooding was made worse by high astronomical tides. There were
reports of cars “floating” in several parking lots in Buxton. In numerous homes,
waist-high waves broke through windows and surged into living rooms. The flooding was one to two
feet higher than predicted on one-hundred-year flood maps, resulting in the need for revised
flood-mapping for Hatteras Island. The Atlantic coast maximum surge levels are estimated to be only
1 to 2 feet above normal.
There were Hurricane Watches posted
from North Carolina to Delaware at 5 pm EDT August 29, or about 47 hours prior to the closest
approach of the hurricane. A Hurricane Warning was issued at 200 pm EDT August 30, or 26
hours prior to the closest approach of the cyclone.
In Eastern North Carolina, Hurricane
Emily damaged 553 homes beyond repair. In addition, officials cut power to Hatteras Island, due to
fears that downed power lines could start a fire. The area hardest hit by Emily in North Carolina
was the city of Buxton, with storm surge, along with a rainfall
amounts of 7.5 inches. There were reports of sinkholes on Highway 12 due to heavy rains
produced by the storm, some of which swallowed up three four-wheel-drive vehicles. Because Emily hit
during Labor Day weekend, the tourism industry suffered after Emily, losing $10,000,000 (1993 US
Dollars) when 160,000 were evacuated from Eastern North Carolina. Emily's storm surge and
ensuing flooding left 25% of the people of Cape Hatteras homeless, which caused Dare County to issue
a federal disaster declaration. Emily's strong winds uprooted trees, downed power lines, tore
the roofs off of some homes, and combined with its flooding, caused $35,000,000 (1993 US Dollars) in
damage. Emily only caused 2 deaths in North Carolina, which occurred when two swimmers drowned in
Nags Head. The low death toll can likely be attributed to the massive evacuations of the
PHOTOS FROM EMILY
Surge Flooding near Buxton, NC associated with
Hurricane Emily, August 31, 1993.
During Hurricane Emily.
Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
Courtesy: Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
Courtesy: Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
Additional Articles Related to Emily
Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press
(Editor’s Note: The following article is based on a column that first appeared in
October, 1993, in The Island Breeze.)
the ‘hurricane of the century’
By IRENE NOLAN
When all was said and done and the facts and figures analyzed, Wally DeMaurice, who was director of
the National Weather Service Office in Buxton at the time, declared Emily the "hurricane of the
century" — at least for the lower part of Hatteras Island.
DeMaurice said in an interview after the storm that the eye of the storm came within 13 miles of
Cape Hatteras in the early evening of Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1993. The lower villages from Avon to
Hatteras were in the storm’s west eyewall for about 1-1/2 hours. During that time, the
villages were battered with sustained winds of hurricane force, or 74 miles per hour.
The wind instruments at the National Weather Service in Buxton stopped functioning about 6 p.m.
when flood waters from the Pamlico Sound got telephone lines wet. The highest gust measured at
the office before that time was 98 miles per hour.
A wind gauge at Fox Watersports in Buxton, which DeMaurice said was "very reliable,"
measured a gust of 107 at 6:12 p.m. The winds at the Diamond Shoals tower, which was very
close to the eye, were clocked at 142.
DeMaurice said he has had reports from residents with wind instruments at their homes of winds up
to 138 miles per hour. He couldn’t say that the wind didn’t blow that hard, but he
did note that wind instruments at the peak of a steep roof can accentuate wind speed.
"However," DeMaurice said, "we did not have 138 mile-per-hour damage. We had
100 mile-per-hour damage."
He noted that even though the island was in the eyewall, it was not on the most dangerous side of
the storm, generally the northeast quadrant.
"We did not have a landfalling hurricane," he said. "We had a glancing
DeMaurice said he was "sweating buckshot" until Emily’s gaping eye, headed straight
for Cape Hatteras, made a turn to the north, just miles off the coast. If the hurricane had
passed over the island and turned north up the sound, he emphasized, the devastation would have been
The devastation on the lower part of the island, he noted, was because of the duration of the
storm. While Gloria in 1985 moved over Hatteras at 28 miles per hour, Emily poked along at
eight to 13 miles per hour. The persistent northwest winds drove a storm surge from the
Pamlico Sound over the island up to 10-1/2 feet in places.
These, DeMaurice said, were the greatest water levels in living memory — more than the
hurricanes of ‘33 and ‘44, and probably more than the 1899 storm. The worse since
a hurricane in 1846 opened Oregon and Hatteras inlets.
The storm surge brought up to five feet of water into the homes of island residents from Avon
through Buxton and on to Frisco and Hatteras villages.
There were no deaths and only one reported injury during the storm, but Emily brought devastating
personal tragedy to the islanders.
County officials estimated the damage at $12.6 million, a figure which in itself is
misleading. It may not seem like that much, but it’s more impressive when you consider
that most of it is limited to a 17-mile stretch of the island.
Early damage estimates indicated that 683 primary homes of residents were affected by the
storm. That included 168 homes destroyed, 216 uninhabitable because of major damage, and 144
uninhabitable because of minor damage. It was estimated that 25 percent of the year-round,
single-family homes were destroyed or uninhabitable.
The suffering was compounded by the fact that many of the businesses in the affected area were
badly damaged and closed, putting many folks out of work, at least temporarily. And the lack
of affordable year-round housing was a major problem for displaced families.
In the days after the storm, Highway 12 and the side roads were lined with the remains of what had
been homes, as residents laid out their devastation for all to see and for highway crews to load
into trucks and cart away. The piles seemed to get higher, as the days went by, and bedding
and furniture were added to ruined carpets. Then came stoves, refrigerators, washers and
dryers, televisions and then ruined clothing and toys.
Emily’s "glancing blow" seemed anything but glancing as dazed islanders began the
process of cleaning up, picking up, and putting their lives back together. Help poured in from
the county, from the state, from the federal government, and from private groups and
The response was impressive, and in just two weeks, Hatteras Island looked almost normal to
tourists who had been allowed to return to the island. Businesses began to open, and slowly
the pace of life began returning to what it was before Aug. 31.
One returning tourist, in a story in The Virginian-Pilot, called the damage
"anticlimactic" after all the media coverage and said that "compared to the Florida
thing (Hurricane Andrew in 1992), it’s not all that bad."
Of course, the lower end of Hatteras Island does not have the number of people that the lower end
of Florida has, and homes were not just blown apart by the wind, leaving piles of timbers for
tourists to see. However, the combination of wind and surging Pamlico Sound waters inflicted
emotional and financial wounds that were months and years healing.
Emily struck a crushing blow to this island, which had been enjoying a financial recovery of sorts
after several bleak years of a bad economy, devastating nor’easters, and a freak accident that
took the island’s only bridge out of commission for months.
It is true that these fragile barrier islands are used to whims of the winds, and hearty, spirited
islanders have weathered storms here for centuries. But few were prepared for what Emily
Nevertheless, most Hatteras islanders picked up and went on, as they did many times before, thanks
to the indomitable human spirit. Either perversely or thankfully, terrific devastation brings
out the best in mankind.
Islanders who themselves had suffered great losses rushed to help those who were in greater
need. Neighbors to the north and south who were spared the wrath of the storm, rushed in to
help. The community pulled together, and concerned people all over the state and the country
sent comfort by the truckload.
Through it all, it was interesting to note that both the terrible tragedy and the terrific response
brought tears to our eyes.
remember Emily’s devastation
By LINDA E. NUNN
Connie Farrow was living on Lester Farrow Road in Frisco during the summer of Hurricane
Emily. She and her toddler daughter, Tiffany, decided to stay with her brother for the
duration of the storm in his two-story house. As they were preparing to leave, a neighbor
stopped by and commented, "Shouldn't you get some of these things up higher?"
"I have lived in this area for most of 30 years," Connie said. "We have never
had tide in the houses." She later returned home to 18 inches of standing water and
numerous ruined photographs, clothes, toys, and other possessions.
While they were staying with her brother, water began flooding the downstairs of the house, forcing
them to climb to the second floor. Tiffany kept running to the doorway to watch the water
creep up the stairs. With a child's innocence, she joyfully announced, "I'm going
Karla Jarvis of Hatteras Village says she and her family have many memories of Emily, but this one
has a lighter note:
"Since our daughter was so young, we decided at the last minute to evacuate for Hurricane
Emily. I remember that when we got home afterwards, we parked the car and stood in the yard,
surveying the damage. It was so quiet. It was eerie. Normally there would have
been cicadas buzzing and crickets chirping and a multitude of birds warbling, but they were all
gone. I remember the silence being so strikingly palpable, we just stood there in utter
amazement, almost afraid to speak.
"Then we heard it — the unmistakable sounds of our three little hens, clucking
away. On the morning we had hurriedly left, my husband had put them in a peeler pot and sat
the pot on top of a pile of webbing — the highest spot we could find. We ran to the
backyard, and sure enough, there they were, poking their little heads in and out of the sides of the
"We're not sure how they made it through the storm. We had about 18 inches of water
inside the house so we figured the water outside had to have been over the top of the pot. We
joked that they must have taken turns holding their breath and standing on each others'
heads. We'll never know their story, but they sure were three happy little hens that day
when we took them out of the pot and let them run free.
"I guess this one sticks out in my mind the most because I am such an auditory person. I
can still remember that eerie silence after all these years later. Strange, huh?"
Edie Coulter and her husband, "Creature," were under their house in Frisco, attempting to
secure a few things when they saw the tide beginning to rise at the corner of their yard. They
decided to disconnect their propane tanks, but within minutes the water was up to their waists and
climbing higher. As they struggled with the tanks, Edie says they were pelted with pine cones
shaken from the trees in the wind and rain.
They had previously parked their John Deere lawn tractor on top of their septic tank since that
spot was the highest point in their yard. "We stood at the upstairs window and watched
the water rise right up over that old John Deere," Edie remembers. "There was just
water everywhere. So much water. Water as far as the eye could see."
John Alwine of Buxton has many Emily memories and shares this one:
"One of the most memorable things about Hurricane Emily and its aftermath is how I met Dan
"The morning after Emily hit, the first item on my agenda was to get outside and see how much
damage had been done to the house and surrounding area. My home backs up to Buxton
Woods. The area is low and usually wet even during a dry summer. The water had risen
from the wooded area up to within a few feet of my shop. This was kind of okay because it
provided me with a source of water to use to flush the toilets in the house, since there was no
water available otherwise.
"Walking around to the front of the house, I saw a large TV satellite truck parked just to the
south. Being nosy, my neighbor, Ann Jennette, and I went that way to see what was going
on. Low and behold, Dan Rather stepped out of the van, introduced himself, and began asking
questions about damage to our property, etc. He walked with Ann and me back to our homes to
see the damage firsthand."
John also remembers that during the height of the storm, he was sitting in the dark in his kitchen,
listening to weather bulletins on the battery-operated radio, trying to stay "cool, calm, and
collected". Out of nowhere, there came a knock on the door. He says, "The wind
a-blowin' like crazy, rain falling heavy enough to blind a person, and someone knocks on my
door! I yelled for them to come in, and in popped N.F. and Doris Jennette, my neighbors,
soaked to the skin. They were at home when the water started coming in the floor vents.
It rose so fast that by the time they could get out, it was up to their waists. The water
damage to their home was extensive."
John says that a day or two after Emily passed, a neighbor called to ask him to check on the
neighbor's waterfront house at the end of Cottage Avenue. "I pulled in under the
house as usual, got out, and stepped on a can of beer. I looked around and there was beer
everywhere. Every brand you could think of. I walked around the house and found beer in
the bushes, laying in the yard, and pooled into piles in low places in the driveway. I checked
the house, documented damage, and commenced to pick up beer. Just on my friend's lot, I
picked up 175 cans of beer. (Mind you, I only picked up premium brands.) I walked around
the neighborhood and found more beer and cans of soft drinks.
"The beer and other items were from a brew-thru type of establishment owned by Corky Whitehead
that had been hit full force by the hurricane and completely emptied of its contents.
"At my age, I have a hard time remembering everything about Emily. One thing I do
remember well is that I didn't like it one bit."
Linda Browning's memories of Emily come in sound bites and mental photographs:
CRACK! A gunshot. No. A tree breaking in half. CRACK! Another. And
another. And another. Pieces of straw in an invisible fist.
Wind. So loud that conversation cannot be heard above the roar. Wood and rafters
screaming, not wanting to let go.
Tide. Rising to the base of the pilings of the house. Get higher. Climbing up the
tires of the car. Now up the engine compartment.
Rain. Filling up the air space between our double-hung windows. How am I going to get
the water out?
Fear. When would the storm pass? What would be left? Who would be hurt?
Later…Green. Pine needles cover everything in sight.
Smell. Rancid sewage odors from flooded septic tanks fill my nostrils along with the sweet,
clean fragrance of evergreens — like Christmas. (The storm left more than 300 60-foot
pines lying on the ground around our house.)
Sadness. I see sky where before I saw only intertwining limbs. The woods are
decimated. Song birds fly in confusion. I think: They need a new map.
Squirrels won't know their way to our bird feeder now.
Heartbreak. My community's ruined belongings are piled high on the roadside waiting for
the trash trucks to haul them away.
Cleaning. I stand in my shop and pour seawater out of the pottery onto the already-wet
floor. The tide line is at 14 inches in a place where it never floods. My husband comes
in and hands me the video, "Great Weather Disasters," which he had ordered from the
Weather Channel weeks earlier.
Alan Yeingst watched part of the storm from James Rollinson's porch in Buxton, behind
Conner’s Supermarket. They watched in amazement as pine trees bent over at 45 degree
angles, as the tide rose to the edge of the porch, and they considered moving the furniture.
Alan waded in chest-deep water to the market's parking lot to move his truck — water was
already over the floor boards. Snakes were everywhere. He remembers a funny moment when
James strolled out on to his porch and yelled, "Ah, Buck! It’s just a shirt-tail
Ernie and Lynne Foster of Hatteras village stayed at Ernal and Hazel Foster's house on Highway
12 during the storm. Lynne says, "During the storm, we heard a knock on the back
door. There were two 'Coasties' who had waded through the water, in the dark, to see
if we were all right or needed any help! I realize now that it was probably a tribute to
Captain Ernal and not standard practice."
During Hurricane Emily, Robin Jennette stayed with friends on Buxton's Back Road. She
says the storm rolled over Buxton during the daytime. Everyone could see what was
"I knew we were in trouble when we saw the water running down the Back Road just like a
river. Sometime after midnight Emily appeared to have gone by, so we decided to take a drive
to check out the damage. My friends dropped me off at the beginning of Rocky Rollinson
Road. I waded in chest deep water, in the dark, hoping I wouldn't walk into any snakes, to
my trailer. The carpet was squishy, but the top of the bed was dry. I was so tired, I
just peeled off my wet clothes and got right in. Hurricane Emily was terrible."
For Additional Information on Hurricane Emily, visit the Island Free Press website.
information, follow these links: