In September 2018, Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas in what many were referring to as a “historic storm.” But to many historians, Hurricane Florence didn’t even come close to the wreckage from the Category 4 Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The storm left a path of destruction, but it developed Myrtle Beach, South Carolina into a popular tourist destination.
A fast-moving storm
Unlike Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Hazel came in quickly, originating from the Caribbean.
“One of the things that made Hazel unique was that it was a very fast-moving storm. It was almost racing inland,” said hurricane historian Jay Barnes.
After Hazel hit the Carolinas, it traveled upward to Virginia and the East Coast. Even areas in Canada were impacted. The storm affected these areas all within 24 hours.
Largest storm surge ever
Because Hazel was a fast-moving hurricane, it produced severe damage to the Carolinas. According to Barnes, the hurricane’s storm surge was the largest ever in North Carolina, with an 18-foot rise in sea level.
The hurricane destroyed 15,000 homes and damaged 39,000 others. The storm also killed 19 people in North Carolina and an estimated 400 to 1,000 in Haiti.
But there was one positive result of the hurricane: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Thank you, Hazel
Hazel hit most of the Carolinas’ popular beach destinations. However, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was smart and city officials evacuated the city’s beachfront before the hurricane. While the storm destroyed most of the city’s small beach shacks, motels, and family businesses, many families sold their properties to real estate developers.
Those developers then built larger motels, hotels, and condos. This action led to the development of more businesses, and Myrtle Beach quickly became the tourist destination it is today.
Because of Hurricane Hazel, the National Hurricane Center developed its current model for tracking hurricanes. As Barnes credited, we can thank Hurricane Hazel for being a benchmark—in more ways than one.