The Legend of the Hurricane-Forecasting Ghost: The Gray Man

The Atlantic is exploding with activity as 3 different disturbances currently lurk across her vast seas: Tropical Storm Harvey and 2 other areas of disturbances. Tropical Storm Harvey looks pretty set on a track through the Caribbean Sea, it's not yet known where the other 2 disturbances, and any additional storms that follow these disturbances, may go or if they will intensify. Meteorologists use many tools including satellite data, air reconnaissance, and forecasting models to keep tabs on storms and to forecast their track and intensity, but in one South Carolina beach town legend has it that a hurricane-portending ghost roams the townwhen storms approach.


Pawleys Island, SC is located 70 miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, and, according to the town's website, is known as one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast. Pawleys Island is a barrier island, less than 4 miles long and about 1 house wide which is separated from the mainland by a salt marsh.


Pawleys is certainly no stranger to hurricanes; notorious storms that have ravaged this town include Hurricane Hazel (1954), Hurricane Hugo (1989), and, most recently, Hurricane Matthew (2016), to name a few. Because of Pawleys Island's vulnerability to tropical systems, residents know to heed the warnings when a storm is headed toward the island. Nowadays, most residents get their weather information from the National Hurricane Center or other weather forecasting outlet, but a lucky few have been visited by what some claim to be a ghost whose appearance is an omen that a storm is headed toward the island.

The ghost, termed 'The Gray Man', is said to appear days before a storm hits. Those that see him and heed his warning to leave the island are spared their life along with their property. Accounts of the Gray Man describe him as a figure dressed in gray clothing.

There are reported sightings of the supposed Gray Man dating back to 1893, and in 1954 he is reported to have knocked on the door of a newly married couple honeymooning on Pawleys Island. In this case, he told them to leave the island due to an approaching deadly storm. Despite clear skies that day, the couple heeded the stranger's warning and left the island. Within days Hurricane Hazel brought her deadly and destructive fury to the island.

Red line indicates Hurricane Hazel's Path through the Carolinas. Click on the map for a cool interactiveimpact map from NOAA/NWS

In 1989, the Gray Man was seen once again ahead of what was at the time the costliest hurricane in history, Hurricane Hugo. In this case, a couple walking on the beach claim to have seen a man walking directly towards them. When he was within speaking distance, the husband raised his hand to greet the strange man but he simply disappeared. Thereafter, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the couple's neighborhood but left their home with little damage. So far, no one has come forward with an account of the Gray Man prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.


So who is this Gray Man and how does he have such advanced knowledge of storms? No one really knows for sure, as with much of folklore, the origin story of the Gray Man changes depends on who you talk to, or what paranormal website you visit. One of the most recited stories is one of a man who, on the way to visit his girlfriend/fiancée died after falling into quicksand on the marshes near Pawleys Island. How he gained such foresight into hurricane forecasts is unclear, but hey, it is a ghost story after all so let the imagination run wild! Hopefully as the Atlantic explodes with activity over the next several days, no one sees the Gray Man in Pawleys Island anytime soon.