Hurricane Isabel

From Academic Kids

This article is about the 2003 hurricane; there was also a Tropical Storm Isabel during the 1985 Atlantic hurricane season.

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Hurricane Isabel was a major hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season which made landfall on September 18, 2003 just south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina around 1:00 PM eastern time. Official reports state that 51 people died as a result of the storm (17 directly), with an official damage estimate of $3.37 billion.



September 16, a stable and consistent series of tracking forecasts indicated Isabel was most likely to strike Cape Hatteras, North Carolina first, and possibly bring near-hurricane or hurricane force conditions to the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia and Maryland, central Virginia, and Washington, D.C. by midnight that night. It was later expected to bring tropical storm conditions to Buffalo, New York, Lake Erie, and Toronto and to become extratropical over the southern Hudson Bay by late Saturday.

While churning in the western Atlantic, Isabel's winds peaked at 160 miles per hour (260 km/h), classifying it as a very deadly category five hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the highest possible rating. Clouds associated with Isabel covered an area of 275,000 square miles (712,000 km²), roughly the size of Texas.


The U.S. military began moving ships out to sea, including 40 based in the Norfolk, Virginia area to avoid being battered against piers. The Air Force began moving planes from its bases along the coast to bases further inland.

All 921 residents of Ocracoke Island along the North Carolina's vulnerable Outer Banks were ordered to begin evacuating on the afternoon of September 15.

On September 15th, the state of Virginia declared a state of emergency to allow emergency services to prepare for the expected landfall of Isabel. [1] (

Hardware and home improvement stores in potentially affected areas reported brisk business of plywood, flashlights, batteries, and portable generators, as residents prepared for the storm's potential impact.

Schools and businesses in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and other mid-atlantic states closed prior to Isabel's arrival to allow time to prepare.

The federal government was closed to all non-essential personnel in Washington, D.C. as employees and residents stayed home and prepared for the storm's fury. This was the first time that the federal government was closed due to the threat of a hurricane.

On September 18 and 19 as Isabel moved ashore, over 5,700 flights were canceled at 20 airports along the Eastern seaboard as airlines sought to move their planes out of the hurricane's path. The cancellations and delays rippled across the country. Washington, D.C.'s transit system shut down bus and rail service Thursday morning, and Amtrak suspended rail service south of the capital city.


Missing image
Flood waters at Langley AFB, Hampton, Virginia as a result of Hurricane Isabel

Isabel's sustained wind speed decreased to 95 MPH as it moved ashore on September 18. That evening, Isabel's sustained wind speed decreased to 70 mph (110 km/h), and the system was downgraded to a tropical storm. The storm surge along the North Carolina coast measured approximately five feet (1.5 m), less than expected. Nevertheless, Isabel caused significant coastal flooding and damaged homes along the coast.

After coming ashore, Isabel began to accelerate to the north. While in the Atlantic, Isabel plodded along at around 8 mph (13 km/h), was moving at around 14 mph (23 km/h) at landfall and was moving at around 24 mph (39 km/h) as it moved through western Virginia. Because of the storm's speed, flooding was not as bad as originally anticipated (in fact, a packed Virginia Tech football game with Texas A&M was played as scheduled in Blacksburg during the peak of the storm in that area). By 8 AM on the 19th, the storm center was 25 miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and rain from the storm was falling in Ontario.

Isabel, larger in size than the state of Texas, unleashed its fury over a wide region from South Carolina to central Ontario and between the eastern Ohio Valley and the Hudson Valley. In total, over 4.3 million people were reported to be without power. This included 525,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina, 78,000 in the District of Columbia, 160,000 in New Jersey, 500,000 in Pennsylvania, 50,000 in Delaware, 40,000 in New York, 21,000 in West Virginia and 40,000 in Ontario. Maryland suffered tremendous damage to its power infrastructure with power lost to nearly half of the state: around 1,250,000 customers. Virginia was the hardest hit, though, with more than 1.6 million customers without power on the night of September 18 and damage in the billions.

President Bush declared major disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, ordering federal aid to both states. The governors of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware declared state emergencies.

Isabel was the first major hurricane to threaten the Mid-Atlantic States and the South since Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. Isabel's greatest impact was due to flood damage, the worst in some areas of Virginia since 1972's Hurricane Agnes.

The name Isabel was retired after the 2003 season, and will be replaced by Ida in the 2009 season.

See also

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