When Hurricane Hugo swept into South Carolina in 1989, high winds and storm surge damaged thousands of homes.
In the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, Jim Stallworth went to check on his parents’ home in Charleston, S.C. The hurricane flooded the home, but it was otherwise still standing.
On nearby Isle of Palms, closer to the ocean, nearly every structure had been destroyed.
“I’m from Charleston, and when Hurricane Hugo came, a lot of damage was done to the peninsula and the surrounding area,” Stallworth said.
However, on the heavily damaged Isle of Palms, a barrier island located on the ocean, Stallworth said he noticed that a couple of homes had survived the storm.
“It was my understanding that only two homes in the area had no structural damage and both of those were built by Deltec,” he said.
Deltec is one of a number of manufacturers that construct homes specifically designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.
So when Stallworth decided to move to a neighborhood on Adams Creek 11 years later, he decided — with the damage caused by Hugo still fresh in his mind — to build a hurricane-resistant home.
With Saturday marking the start to another hurricane season, Stallworth has confidence in his home. After all, he built the 2,900 square-foot, four-bedroom home in 2000, three years before Hurricane Isabel struck the Carolina coast in 2003.
Hurricane Ophelia followed in 2005, and then Hurricane Irene visited in 2010. Though the creek washed over its banks and flooded the area, Stallworth’s home was structurally sound. The only damage was a small patch of screen on the porch that was torn away in the winds.
The home sits up on stilts, protecting it from Adams Creek when it rises during storms. But what helps the structure survive the 75 mph or higher winds of a hurricane is the circular design, said Joe Schlenk, director of sales and marketing for Deltec.
“It’s a circular design so it is going to shed wind much better than a square or a rectangle,” Schlenk said. “Air just really flows around it, so it is a very durable design in that regard.
“Wind can’t build up enough significant pressure on any side of the home to cause a structural failure, so the wind literally just blows around the house.”
Schlenk said radial engineering adds strength, helping the home against hurricane-force winds.
“Instead of the floor and roof trusses running parallel, like they do in most homes, they are in a radial pattern, just like spokes on a wheel, so the material excellence is where it starts, the shape is very significant, but that radial engineering really just brings it all together,” Schlenk said. “If any one section of the home is under duress with energy building up with significant winds and that sort of thing, that energy is disbursed through the entire structure through that radial floor/roof truss design. It works very much the way a spider web works.”
He said higher-quality materials also help the homes survive during a storm. For example, he said Deltec uses a southern yellow pine wood in the skeleton of the house.
“That’s about twice as strong as the best material you could buy at your local lumber yard,” he said.
There’s a chance, just like the past three years, that Stallworth’s home won’t be put to the test by a hurricane this season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a near-normal or below normal Atlantic hurricane season this year.
According to the forecast, there is a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms, of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes and the potential of 1 to 2 of those becoming a major hurricane.
The primary reason for the outlook is the anticipated development of El Nino this summer. According to the NOAA information, El Nino causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. It can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic.
But don’t let the forecast fool you, forecasters warn. It takes only one storm to hit a community and bring hazards such as storm surge, high winds, flooding and tornadoes.
“What we try to impress upon people is that it doesn’t matter if it’s an inactive season or an active one, it only takes one,” said John Cole, forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Newport.
Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992 as a Category 5 storm. It was one of only seven named storms that season, well below the average. In 1993, Hurricane Emily brushed the Outer Banks and was one of just eight named storms.
Cole said storm surge is the biggest threat to property and lives during hurricanes, and a new tool is available this year to help residents prepare for potential flooding from storm surge, the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm beyond predicted astronomical tides.
The National Hurricane Center will generate maps in conjunction with a hurricane watch, and in some cases a tropical storm watch, to show geographic areas where inundation from storm surge could occur.
“It will show specifically on the map what areas could see inundation and at what height above ground level,” Cole said.
More information is available on hurricane season at the National Hurricane Center website at www.nhc.noaa.gov.
Jacksonville Daily News reporter Jannette Pippin contributed to this story.