TOP STORIES OF 2020, NO. 3: Hurricane Isaias makes landfall at Ocean Isle Beach

Allison Ballard
Wilmington StarNews
Boats are stacked on top of each other in the Southport Marina on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 in Southport, N.C., after Hurricane Isaias came ashore overnight in Brunswick County as a category 1 hurricane.

It was difficult to know what to expect when Hurricane Isaias, a Category 1 storm, made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to North Carolina this summer.

But as it made landfall near Ocean Isle Beach on Aug. 3, powerful winds, a five-foot storm surge, and tornadoes devastated the area -- especially coastal Brunswick County. 

Isaias, which officially became a hurricane on July 31, was the earliest ninth named storm on record. (Previously, it was 2005’s Hurricane Irene.) On Aug. 1, it passed over the Bahamas and weakened, and then strengthened again before making landfall locally around 11 p.m. with sustained winds near 85 miles per hour. During peak storm-related outages, more than 365,000 customers in Southeastern North Carolina were without power.

The water and sand pushed ashore by the storm surge damaged multiple homes in Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach, including three that were also consumed by fire. 

PHOTOS: Hurricane Isaias damage in Brunswick County from the air

PHOTOS: Fire in Ocean Isle Beach after Hurricane Isaias

Hurricane Isaias produced six confirmed tornado touchdowns across the portion of the Carolinas covered by the Wilmington office of the National Weather Service. Tornadic activity was spotted in the Leland area. But forecasters said the strongest was on the ground for more than eight miles from Bald Head Island to Southport.  

It arrived ahead of the storm at around 8 p.m. Aug. 3. The NWS estimated that this tornado likely had winds of 115 miles per hour and a maximum path width of 70 yards. 

Some of the damage to the town was evident at the Southport Marina, where boats and docks were picked up and piled into a heap by the force of the storm. 

More:Southport Marina eyes 2021 reopening for docks after devastating Isaias damage

It’s estimated 18 people died in connection to Hurricane Isaias, including two men who were struck by lightning in Wilmington while cutting down tree limbs on Aug. 5.

More:Two dead after being struck by lightning in Wilmington

What's new: As it turns out, Hurricane Isaias was a part of a record-setting 2020 hurricane season, which actually began before the official June 1 start of the season when Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the coast of Florida in mid-May. 

As of Nov. 30, there were 30 named storms and 12 that made landfall in the continental U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For only the second time, the list of predetermined Atlantic hurricane names was exhausted, and forecasters turned to the Greek alphabet as other storms formed. Almost the entire U.S. coastline that is exposed to tropical storms and hurricanes was under a watch or a warning at some point during the season, according to NOAA.

Luckily for Southeastern North Carolina, many of these storms didn’t have the same impact as Isaias. 

A list of 2020 named storms

What's next: A major disaster declaration and approval for federal assistance for North Carolinians affected by Hurricane Isaias came in October, covering 15 counties including Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick.

It means that local communities may be able to be reimbursed for some of the money they spent in the aftermath of the storm. 

More:Damage discovered in Brunswick Town's historic church from likely Isaias tornado

PHOTOS: Southport waterfront damage from Isaias

PHOTOS: Hurricane Isaias damage at the Fat Pelican

In Holden Beach alone, damage was estimated to $40 million. Southport sustained an estimated $1.75 million in damage to structures and streets along the riverfront. 

In Oak Island, officials were waiting until November and the end of sea turtle nesting season to sort through sand collected after Isaias in hopes of returning it to the beach.

And more restorations are likely in early 2021. Southport, for example, wants to work to stabilize the city’s damaged waterfront area.