VIDEO: The perfect “Halloween Storm” pounded Outer Banks beaches 30 years ago

Kitty Hawk bathouse (left) and the Black Pelican Restaurant (right) during the height of flooding during the Halloween Storm of 1991. [courtesy Village Realty]

While this Halloween weekend is kicking off with high surf and windy conditions, it is by no means close to what happened three decades ago from Cape Hatteras to Canada.

The infamous Halloween Storm of 1991 that would later also be named The Perfect Storm, caused extensive damage and flooding that many said were the worst on the Outer Banks since the Ash Wednesday Storm of March 1962.

What made the storm off the East Coast “perfect,” as it became commonly known thanks to the 2000 movie that dramatized the sinking of the Andrea Gail off Newfoundland, was the combination of a strengthening non-tropical low off Atlantic Canada, former Hurricane Grace that passed about 400 miles off Cape Hatteras, and strong high pressure over eastern Canada and the eastern U.S.

The storm would eventually become an unnamed hurricane, with a warm-core center of circulation and maximum sustained winds of 90 mph as it took a path that spun around on itself in the north Atlantic.

While the Outer Banks experienced sunny skies and seasonable temperatures, the storm produced 10 to 12 foot surf that lasted four days and eight high tide cycles, on top of a 3.93 foot storm surge measured at Cape Hatteras on Nov. 1.

Overwash flooded the Beach Road from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head and all the way up to U.S. 158 in a number of spots. More than a dozen breeches of the dunes in Cape Hatteras National Seashore were cut.

Along with the water, up to four feet of sand covered N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island in multiple locations between Oregon Inlet and Buxton.

Evacuations were ordered on Halloween morning for all of South Nags Head and everyone east of the Bypass in Kill Devil Hills.

Travel across the Wright Memorial and Washington Baum bridges was restricted to just Dare and Currituck residents for several days, while N.C. 12 was closed to all traffic south of Whalebone Junction.

Oceanfront properties took the brunt of the storm, with several homes and three motels destroyed or severely damaged. A total of 76 buildings in Dare County were condemned either due to structural damage or compromised septic systems.

The oceanside wall of the Atlantis nightclub next to Nags Head Pier. [Larry Gray photo]
Waves crashing against the bulkhead at Kitty Hawk Pier during the Halloween Storm of 1991. [courtesy Elaine Gregory]
A North Carolina Power truck wades through high water in Kitty Hawk during the Halloween Storm of 1991. [courtesy Elaine Gregory]
Lisa Bowman points at a wave breaking on the end of Kitty Hawk Pier during the Halloween Storm of 1991. [courtesy Elaine Gregory]
The overwash also compromised drinking water wells in Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, and portable water tanks were made available at several locations in the tri-villages.

Salt spray and gale force winds caused power lines to spark and transformers to explode, with more than thousands of customers without power at the peak.

Carol Ann Angelos, owner of the The Jolly Roger in Kill Devil Hills, shot video in and around her restaurant on October 30 and 31 as the continuing damage unfolded throughout the night and into the following day. [Video courtesy Outer Banks History Center on Youtube]

About Sam Walker 1512 Articles
Sam Walker was news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.