'Once in a lifetime': Larry Sprinkle remembers Hurricane Hugo, 32 years later

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Hugo left a trail of destruction across the Carolinas that hasn’t been seen since. Thousands of people in Charlotte went many days without power.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Editor’s Note: The attached video originally aired on Sept. 22, 2019. 

Wednesday, Sept. 22 isn’t just the first day of fall, it’s one of the most notorious weather anniversaries in the Carolinas: It marks the 32 years since Hurricane Hugo made landfall just north of Charleston, South Carolina. 

Hugo was a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds well over 130 mph when it hit Isle of Palms after devastating the Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe, St. Crois and Puerto Rico. 

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When Hugo made landfall, the storm was moving quickly and was still a Category 1 by the time it reached Charlotte. With gusts up to 90 mph, Hugo laid waste to Charlotte, leaving thousands of people without power for weeks. Have a conversation with anyone who lived here when Hugo hit and you can almost bet they have a story. 

“Piles and piles of debris where homeowners had been trying to clear out their yards,” Robert Combs, who works for Duke Energy, said. “And a lot of things that were really interesting to me were that neighbors were really helping neighbors”

The night before Hugo was expected to reach Charlotte, WCNC Charlotte forecaster Larry Sprinkle was on his way home from a station event. Sprinkle’s instincts told him to check the status of the storm. When he returned to the station for his shift, things took a nasty turn. 

“There was a 500-pound chunk of ceiling material that fell maybe 15 feet away from me,” Sprinkle recalled. “Our anchor at the time, Rick Jackson, said, ‘we’ll come back to larry in a moment,’ but there was just an empty chair where I had been sitting. 

“It took me less than 30 seconds to crawl on my hands and knees, out of the studio, and into the hallway.”

Hugo caused at least 86 deaths and upwards of $10 billion in damages. The name was retired by the World Meteorological Organization. 

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