Remembering Hurricane Isabel, Five Years Later
How do you spell RELIEF? -- all is quiet on the tropical front. For the first time in weeks there are no hurricanes, tropical storms or depressions in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific. After the rapid-fire sequence of storms since mid August -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- it's time for a breather from tracking developing storms and predicting landfall intensities and impacts. A much-needed break for those in Texas and Louisiana only beginning to recover from Gustav and Ike.
Being the storm fanatic I am, if there are no current threats to deal with, there's always the past to relive. In particular, I've begun reminiscing on Hurricane Isabel, which roared into this region as a tropical storm just five years ago this week. Isabel stands as the most destructive tropical system to ever hit the DC/MD/VA area.
As documented in the National Hurricane Center's official report, Isabel made landfall near Drum Inlet, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds, but soon weakened to tropical storm status (sustained winds less than 74 mph) as it proceeded on a northwesterly track through central Virginia to southwest Pennsylvania. On its way, Isabel caused widespread damage in coastal regions of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. As the storm moved to the northwest, damaging winds extended east as far as Delaware and New Jersey.
Locally, in the Washington-Baltimore region, there was extensive damage from uprooted trees and especially from flooding as rising tides and high winds pushed record storm surges -- 6-8 feet -- into the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore, and into the Potomac around D.C. and Alexandria, Va. Combined with the runoff from Isabel's rain, on top of a very wet pattern earlier in September, floodwater inundated many homes, businesses and automobiles.
For a more details on Isabel's local impacts, see this entry from Wikipedia, and "Hurricane Isabel Taught Many Lessons," based on the terrific book by Rick Schwartz, "Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States."
That I had a personal run in with Isabel was quite serendipitous. I had been at a meeting in California, from which I was to proceed -- without returning to D.C. -- to another meeting in Montreal. Fate, however, unexpectedly intervened. Unbeknownst to me (and my ticketing travel agent), new regulations required a passport for flights to Canada, which I didn't have with me.
So, what to do? Return home for the passport and proceed from there to Montreal, or forget the meeting and stay around for Isabel? If you believe there was even a moment of indecision, I've got a bridge to nowhere in Alaska -- oops, better not go there -- that is, a bridge over the Grand Canyon for sale.
The flooding near my home from Isabel was quite impressive, as water overtopped the wall along Washington Channel onto, yes, Water Street, from just under I-395 southeast to the, yes, Titanic Memorial (see map). The well known Washington DC Fish Market was inundated, and nearby underground parking garages were flooded with cars bobbing around like toy ducks in a bathtub.
Closer to my home was flooding at headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department's D.C. Harbor Patrol (see map). Photographs taken by Harbor Patrol Officer Robert Grooms show the aftermath. Interior damage (at right) was extensive and required the facility to be rebuilt. The photograph below shows some of the damage on the exterior, with the high-water mark clearly visible just below the windows. Grooms told me he estimates the water reached about 10 feet higher than normal levels.
I'm sure many of you have interesting stories about living through Isabel. Probably more interesting than my own. Let's hear 'em!
BTW: This weekend is the 70th anniversary of The 1938 hurricane -- described as "the most intense tropical cyclone to strike the United States Atlantic coastline north of North Carolina." I'm not quite old enough to have personal remembrances of this extraordinary weather event, but perhaps some of you are, or have heard stories passed down by parents or grandparents. If so, please pass them along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (temporary email address), with pictures if available. I expect to post a compilation of stories next week.
| September 18, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Tracton, Tropical Weather
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