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Hurricane Isabel

Hurricane Isabel was a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean in September 2003, which made landfall on the East Coast of the United States on Thursday afternoon, September 18th. The center of the hurricane made landfall just south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina around 1:00 PM eastern time. Initial reports indicate that 40 people died as a result of the storm and damage was estimated at close to $1 billion.

Table of contents
1 Forecasts
2 Preparations
3 Impact
4 See also
5 External links


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

Since September 11th, while churning in the western Atlantic, Isabel's winds at times exceeded 155 miles per hour, making it a category five hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale for the destructive power of hurricanes, the highest rating. Maximum measured winds reached as high as 160 MPH. Isabel had clouds covering 275,000 square miles (712,000 square kilometers).


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.


On September 18 and 19, as the hurricane began moving on shore, 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.

The federal government essentially shut down 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 shut down due to the threat of a hurricane. Schools across the affected regions also shut down. It remained closed on the 19th.

Isabel, roughly the size of the state of Colorado, unleashed its fury over a wide region. In total, over 4.3 million people were reported to be without power. This included 525,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina, 1,250,000 in Maryland, 78,000 in the District of Columbia, 160,000 in New Jersey, 500,000 in Pennsylvania, 50,000 in Delaware, 21,000 in West Virginia. Virginia was the hardest hit, with more than 1.6 million customers without power on the night of September 18.

The hurricane's top speed slowed to 95 MPH as it moved on shore. That evening, Isabel's top wind speeds slowed to 70 MPH, and the system was downgraded to Tropical Storm Isabel. The storm surge along the North Carolina coast measured approximately five feet, less than expected. Nevertheless, Isabel caused significant coastal flooding and damaged homes along the coast. When the storm came ashore, its maximum sustained winds decreased, but the system's speed as a whole picked up. While in the Atlantic, Isabel plodded along at around 8 MPH. Isabel was moving at around 14 MPH when the it made landfall, and it picked up speed to about 24 MPH as it moved through western Virginia. Because of the storm's speed, flooding was not expected to be as bad as originally anticipated. 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.

President Bush declared major disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, ordering federal aid to both states. President Bush's declaration affected the following counties in North Carolina: [1] Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Edgecombe, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell, and Washington.

The President's disaster declaration for Virginia affected the following independent cities: [1]

Norfolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Franklin, Hampton, Poquoson, Newport News, Alexandria, Williamsburg, Hopewell, and Emporia.

The following counties in Virginia were also affected as well:

Greensville, Southampton, Northampton, Accomack, Isle of Wight, Sussex, Surry, Prince George, Charles City, James City, York, Gloucester, Mathews, Middlesex, Lancaster, Northumberland, Westmoreland, and Richmond.

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.

See also

External links