CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – It has been 34 years since Hurricane Hugo battered the South Carolina coast.
The powerful Category 4 storm began lashing the Charleston area on September 21, 1989, before making landfall just north of Charleston around midnight the following morning.
Hugo packed 140 mph sustained winds and 160 mph gusts. The storm produced significant wind and storm surge damage along the coast and caused about $7 billion in damage between the United States and Puerto Rico. At the time, Hugo was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
“34 years later, Hurricane Hugo remains the last major hurricane to make landfall along the South Carolina coast. Not only did it change the landscape, it changed lives, mine included,” said Storm Team 2 Chief Meteorologist Rob Fowler. “It was an experience I would rather not go through again, but we all know a Hugo-like storm will happen again sometime. This is why each year we remember.”
Like many who lived in the Lowcountry then, Rob Fowler saw Hugo’s power and destruction first-hand. He had only been with WCBD TV for two years when the storm slammed into South Carolina.
“Going into it, it was hard to believe ‘this is happening,’” Fowler said. “You always feel like it’s going to turn, going to go back out into the ocean. We got to the point – as it was getting closer to land – we realized it wasn’t going to turn.”
Rob was stationed at the National Weather Service office in North Charleston to monitor the storm and provide updates to the community. The WCBD team also broadcast from its transmitter facility in Awendaw. At one point, WCBD was the only Charleston television station left on the air.
“When I drove over the old Grace Bridge, the old rickety bridge, all the way to the National Weather Service I was still thinking that it might turn,” Fowler recalled. “That was the forecast, more towards Myrtle Beach. And I remember the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service said ‘I needed to get on your airwaves, and I need to tell people this storm is not turning. It’s not going to Myrtle Beach, it’s not going to eastern North Charleston, it’s coming right up the Charleston Harbor and all these people will be impacted.’”
Fowler went on to say, “I think at that very moment, about nine o’clock, three hours before the actual landfall, I realized that we were going to get the full force of Hurricane Hugo.”
Hugo formed near the Cape Verde Islands on September 9, 1989. Strengthening over time, Hugo would be upgraded to a strong Category 5 hurricane as it trekked across the Atlantic but wavered in intensity as it moved near Guadeloupe, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico.
The storm caused widespread damage and claimed several lives as it passed through the islands before later setting its eye on the Lowcountry.
Here at home, nearly 80,000 homes were damaged or destroyed because of the hurricane, and the estimated loss of timber surpassed $1 billion.