Three weeks before the official start of hurricane season, Tropical Storm Ana swept over Wrightsville Beach, bringing high surf and record rainfall.
The storm began taking shape when an area of low pressure evolved near the Bahamas Wednesday, May 6, meteorologist Steve Pfaff said during a May 11 phone interview. It was classified as a subtropical system until it passed over the warm Gulfstream water and gained tropical characteristics.
“Every three to five years, we’ll get [a tropical system] that forms outside of hurricane season,” Pfaff said. “If the water temperatures are warm enough … there’s always a possibility one may form.”
The storm’s impacts would be relatively similar whether it was classified as subtropical or tropical, science officer Reid Hawkins said during a May 7 conference call. The main difference between the two types of systems is structural, he said; a tropical system’s strongest winds are wrapped around its center and a subtropical system can have strong winds extending out hundreds of miles.
Tropical Storm Ana, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, moved slowly toward the coast of southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina over the May 16-17 weekend. Pfaff said its sluggish pace was dictated by a lack of steering currents.
It finally made landfall around North Myrtle Beach Sunday morning and gradually weakened as it tracked north up the coast. The storm passed over New Hanover County later Sunday, May 17 bringing gusty winds and drenching rain.
The National Weather Service reported New Hanover County received more than four inches of rainfall associated with Tropical Storm Ana over a four-day period. Other locations, like Myrtle Beach, received more than six inches.
On Sunday, a New Hanover County maximum daily rainfall record set in 1888 was more than doubled. The record was 1.39 inches, Pfaff said, and 2.95 inches were recorded at the Wilmington International Airport.
Pfaff said some localized flooding occurred from the rainfall. Despite the large, choppy surf, local beaches only experienced relatively minor beach erosion and ocean overwash at high tide.
“We’re coming off a full moon, which helped,” Pfaff said. “If the storm surge was coincident with the full moon then it would have been a little bit worse in some areas.”
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