Everything You Need to Know To Enjoy Topsail Island During Hurricane Season
*** This blog was updated in September 2021 ***
Hurricane season. For some, the idea of vacationing along the NC coast during this time of year may induce moments of doubt or uncertainty. After all, North Carolina does rank 3rd overall in number of direct hits by hurricanes.
But you should lay any concerns to rest and still head out to enjoy Topsail Island. Because, what this statistic really tells us is that coastal NC has withstood more than its fair share of hurricanes.
We know how to weather the storm, both literally and figuratively. So, take a few minutes, jot down some notes, and keep reading to learn everything you need to know to relax and enjoy Topsail Island during hurricane season.
Hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, with peak months occurring during August, September, and October. Chances are good that this timeline will coincide with your Topsail Island vacation rental plans. While this does not mean that your trip WILL be impacted by a hurricane, it does mean that you should both consider and plan for the possibility that it might.
One of the best things that you can do to ease your mind about potential disruption to your travel plans is to purchase travel insurance. Our Travel Insurance policy offers peace of mind in the event that your vacation is cancelled or interrupted by any number of reasons, including mandatory hurricane evacuation.
Once you've accomplished this part of your planning, everything else is up to Mother Nature. Here's what to do next in the event that she decides to toss a hurricane your way.
Rule #1 - Don't Panic
For better or for worse, hurricanes are notoriously fickle beasts. Chances are that EVEN IF a hurricane forms in the Atlantic during the course of your stay on Topsail Island, it may not impact your vacation in a substantial way. Hurricanes often change course or intensity, and while it's important to be prepared for the possibility that the storm will come ashore, it's equally as important to stay calm and go about your business as usual until the moment arises that you're directed to do otherwise.
Your best plan of action at this stage is to stay calm, keep informed, and continue with your Topsail Island vacation as planned.
Rule #2 - Stay Alert
In the event that a hurricane is threatening the eastern seaboard, it will be important for you to stay tuned in to whatever news source you find most accessible. Local television and radio stations will provide ample coverage detailing all aspects of the impending storm.
Apps and websites such as those run by ReadyNC and the National Hurricane Center Storm Tracker are excellent tools for general information. Also, in the event of threatening weather, one of the three towns on the island can give you specific instructions relevant to the town in which your rental property is located:
- Surf City, 910-328-4131
- Topsail Beach, 910-328-5841
- North Topsail Beach, 910-328-1349
Pender County Emergency Management Services also operates a website that will be updated when circumstances permit, and/or you can sign up for local emergency community notifications through Pender County's CodeRED notification system.
Rule #3 - Know The Lingo
If a storm is threatening eastern North Carolina, you'll hear a lot of terminology thrown around. Here's how to decode what the weather experts are telling you:
- Tropical Depression – storm sustains winds up to 39 miles per hour (mph).
- Tropical Storm – 39 to 73 mph winds
- Category 1 – 74 to 95 mph winds
- Category 2 – 96 to 110 mph winds
- Category 3 – 111 to 129 mph winds
- Category 4 – 130 to 156 mph winds.
- Category 5 – winds 157 mph or greater.
- Tropical Storm Warning – tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within 36 hours.
- Hurricane Watch – hurricane conditions (sustained winds greater than 74 mph) are possible within 24-48 hours.
- Hurricane Warning – hurricane conditions (sustained winds greater than 74 mph) are expected within 24 hours.
An important thing to keep in mind at this stage is that even a Category 1 storm can produce significant damage. The combination of sustained winds and heavy rains often result in downed trees and power lines as well as many other types of debris. Flooding often becomes an issue during these storms as well, which makes driving especially perilous. Remember, when in your vehicle and faced with a flooded road - Turn Around, Don't Drown!
The Town of Topsail Beach offers the following guidelines: "If a HURRICANE WATCH is issued for Pender County, a hurricane is threatening, but not necessarily imminent. Fuel and service family vehicles, and continue to monitor radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio for bulletins. A hurricane watch means it is possible that the watch area may have hurricane conditions in 24 to 48 hours.
If a HURRICANE WARNING is issued for Pender County, it is very possible that the county could experience hurricane conditions in less than 24 hours. Listen constantly to radio and TV and begin preparing for the storm. When landfall is expected within 24 hours, Emergency Departments will notify residents and visitors of an evacuation."
Rule #4 - Stay Prepared, Stay Independent
A general rule of thumb for personal hurricane preparedness is to ensure that you can support yourself and your family for a minimum of 72 hours without outside assistance.
In the event that the weather conditions have escalated to the point that evacuation from Topsail Island appears to be a credible option, it's crucial to take the following steps as soon as possible:
- Review your travel insurance policy to ensure you know what to do in order to remain in compliance for coverage
- Establish a primary and a secondary evacuation destination
- Communicate your intended travel plans with all family members (present and non-vacationing)
- Stock up on water and non-perishable foods
- Restock your first aid kit with any items that may have been used
- Ensure all phones and other necessary tech devices are fully charged and associated cords are nearby
If You Traveled To Topsail Island Via Personal Vehicle
- Fill all vehicles with fuel and top off other fluids.
- Prepare your vehicle for an extended trip. Don't forget to include entertainment and personal comfort items!
If You Traveled To Topsail Island Via Common Carrier (Airplane, Tour Bus, etc.)
- Contact the carrier's general information and/or customer service line as soon as possible. Many carriers will ramp up services out of the area in the day or two before a major storm hits, and then may halt all services until after the hurricane passes. Individual circumstances will vary and may depend on the nature of the impending storm and/or the terms of your original travel arrangements.
Rule #5 - Where To Go & How To Get There
It will be vitally important that you act swiftly in the event that emergency management officials order a mandatory hurricane evacuation. Remember - if you have been ordered to leave, so has everyone else in the area. Pender County evacuation routes will quickly become heavily trafficked as everyone attempts to move inland.
The Town of Topsail Beach says "Evacuation orders from each town provide an organized and coordinated exit from the island. As a guideline, the towns issue an evacuation order approximately 24 hours before the expected landfall. You can learn of an evacuation order by listening to local media, watching the local cable access channel for the evacuation message, or listening for emergency vehicles announcing and sounding sirens after a state of Emergency is declared and an order to evacuate is issued.
Main evacuation routes leaving Pender County (Highways 210, 50 and 53) flood quickly during heavy rains. You may want to leave the island before the evacuation order to avoid increased traffic."
NCDOT reminds us: "Many evacuation routes in North Carolina are interstates and major highways that can accommodate heavy traffic volumes and higher speed limits and allow motorists to leave threatened areas more quickly and efficiently than if they were to use local roads. Most of these routes are marked with circular blue signs that read "Evacuation Routes."
Travelers uncertain about a route's safety can find out latest road conditions and closures using the N.C. Department of Transportation's Traveler Information Management System or by calling 511, North Carolina's toll-free traveler information line. Travel details will also be posted on permanent and portable message boards along the evacuation routes and will also be communicated via local media."
A Note About Shelters
While there are established hurricane shelters in Pender County, it's generally in your best interest to remove yourself as far as you are able to from the impending storm. If you find yourself stranded in the area during the storm, several locations can offer a relatively safe albeit not always comfortable haven.
The Town of Surf City offers these general shelter guidelines:
- Take blankets or sleeping bags, flashlights, special dietary foods, infant needs and light weight folding chairs.
- Register every person arriving with you at the shelter.
- Do not take pets, alcoholic beverages or weapons of any kind to shelters.
- Be prepared to offer assistance to shelter workers if necessary.
- Stress to all family members their obligations to keep the shelter clean and sanitary.
While all of this information is vital for you to consider while planning for your Topsail Island beach vacation, the fact remains that evacuation-inducing hurricanes are relatively uncommon occurrences. As long as you prepare yourself for the possibility of a storm, protect yourself in advance as best you can, and stay productively engaged in the process should an active hurricane system arise, you will have no problem enjoying your Topsail Island vacation during hurricane season!