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  HURRICANE ISABEL - SEPTEMBER 2003

    by Philip Lutzak November 2006

 

INTRODUCTION

  Although I felt only the final, weak punch of Hurricane Isabel here in Brooklyn, New York, I lost more than I expected from it, and it's all because of what it did to Baltimore, Maryland. I have some good friends in Baltimore, and one of our favorite places to spend an afternoon or evening there was Miss Irene's, a corner pub in the Fells Point section on the old waterfront. Miss Irene's was a fixture from the older days and was one of the last unpretentious, old-style institutions in a heavily "modernized" area. And then came Hurricane Isabel. Although it had weakened from a stunning category 5 in the mid-Atlantic to a category 2 at landfall in Cape Hatteras, its fury was still immense and its track from that point focused an historic storm surge directly into the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River Basins. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the water levels broke the previous records established in the historic Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane of 1933 at Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Annapolis. Baltimore had a record storm surge of 8-9 feet, and most buildings in the beautiful Fells Point section on the bay front had water waist deep or higher into their first floors (figure 1, right.) Although most of them have been cleaned up and restored in the ensuing 3 years, Miss Irene's had so much flood damage that it succumbed for good, and now is only a great memory among those of us who enjoyed a drink there.  

Figure 1. Struggling through the floodwaters in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, MD after Hurricane Isabel. Courtesy sunfyre.com.

  In this report I will explain how a small swirl of clouds moving off the African coast can build into a monstrous category 5 hurricane, and how such a storm can come all the way across the Atlantic, far from where it was born, to wipe out lives and property, including my favorite little bar in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Figure 2. Isabel's powerful storm surge carved a new inlet through Cape Hatteras Island south of Frisco, NC. Courtesy USGS. Figure 3. Large sections of Highway 12 on the Outer Banks were demolished. Courtesy Patrick Schneider, The Charlotte Observer.

 

  Figures 2 and 3 above are images of the destruction Hurricane Isabel wreaked at Hatteras Island, North Carolina. Landing as a category 2 storm, Isabel carved a huge breach in the barrier island at Hatteras Island, North Carolina (figure 2), and washed away large sections of the highway that runs along the barrier beaches there (figure 3).

 

Figure 4. House goes into the sea at Buxton, north of Cape Hatteras, NC. Courtesy sunfyre.com. Figure 5. Downtown Annapolis, MD, under water. Courtesy Ryan Chapin. Figure 6. Hurricane waves batter Avalon, NJ. Courtesy sunfyre.com.

 

  Figure 4 shows more of the destruction caused by Isabel at Hatteras Island, NC. Isabel continued inland and moved northwestward just southwest of the Chesapeake Bay area. As the storm continued inland, it caused flood and wind damage that extended from Hatteras all the way northward to Virginia, Maryland (figure 5), western Pennsylvania and New Jersey (figure 6). Here's the complete NHC report on Isabel. There were also 2 tornadoes caused by the landfalling hurricane: see the Storm Prediction Center's storm report for 09/18/2003.

 

 

 

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