Hospital Ship JK Barnes floundered during the Great Gale of 1878. Photo National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Hospital Ship JK Barnes floundered during the Great Gale of 1878. Photo National Museum of Health and Medicine.

It doesn’t look as though there are any tropical systems threatening the Outer Banks right now, but this week in October has had its moment of storm history.

We need to hop in a time machine and head back to 1878. That’s when the Great Gale of 1878 raced up the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm came ashore around Cape Fear on on the night of October 21. By the next day the Kitty Hawk LifeSaving Station reported “… a hurricane was experienced at this station. It began at 6:30 p.m. …from the southeast. The wind and rain increased rapidly until 2 a.m…and the barometer had reached its minimum at that time; actual barometer read 29.064 and the wind velocity reached 88 miles per hour. The wind shifted suddenly from the southeast to southwest, increasing in velocity and carrying away the anemometer.”

The report was filed the US Army Signal Corps, who shared the station with the Lifesaving Crew. Until the 1890s the Signal Corps recorded weather along the coast.

Great Gale Dangerous to Shipping

The storm sunk four ships in North Carolina waters

The Cape Hatteras Signal Corps office reported, “Two-masted schooner Altoona, of Boston, cargo, logwood, ran ashore 11:45 p.m. of the 22nd; total loss.”

One of the first purpose built hospital ships in the world foundered off Cape Hatteras. The steamship General J.K. Barnes was launched in 1865 to transport wounded soldiers home. After the Civil War it was sold as surplus. The crew was rescued.

One of the most harrowing escapes was the sinking of the sinking of the steamship City of Houston. The passenger and crew was rescued by another the steamer Margaret at the height of the storm as the Houston was actively sinking.

To get a sense of the power and horror of the storm, there is this report from the Kitty Hawk Signal office. As the schooner Magnolia attempted to cross Albemarle Sound, the storm descended upon the ship. On board was the Signal Corps inspection officer.

“Schooner Magnolia, Capt. George Wurtle, was wrecked in Albemarle Sound; captain drowned. First Lieut. James A. Buchanan, acting signal-officer and inspector, was a passenger on board…for the purpose of inspecting the signal stations along this coast and was saved by lashing himself to the gunwale, after the vessel had capsized and was grounded, and swimming ashore.”

It doesn’t look as though we have anything that exciting coming up on the Outer Banks. In fact, it just looks like some great weather and a perfect time to visit. Check out our Brindley Beach Vacations properties for the best selection on the Outer Banks.