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Hurricane Isabel

Event Description

Isabel was identified as a Tropical Storm on Saturday, September 6, 2003 at 9 PM/1300 UTC at 14N 34W, west of the Cape Verde Islands. Moving west-northwest, Isabel developed into a Category 1 Hurricane on Sunday, and strengthened to rare Category 5 Hurricane status (sustained 1-minute wind greater than 155 mph) on Thursday, September 11, 2003. Although Isabel briefly weakened to Category 4 strength it was still a Category 5 storm on Sunday, September 14, 2003, centered 325 miles north of Puerto Rico. Over the next couple of days, Isabel made a slow northwest turn, weakening to Category 3 strength Monday afternoon and Category 2 strength on Tuesday. Isabel continued on a north-northwest course, making landfall on the North Carolina Outer Banks between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras on Thursday afternoon, September 18, 2003.


At 11 AM on Tuesday, September 16, 2003, when the center of Isabel was 600 miles away, a Hurricane Watch was raised for the coast of North Carolina and a Tropical Storm Watch was raised for the South Carolina coast south to the mouth of the South Santee River. At 11 PM, a Hurricane Warning was raised from Cape Fear NC northward, a Tropical Storm Warning was raised from Cape Fear to Little River Inlet SC, with a Tropical Storm Watch remaining from Little River Inlet SC to South Santee River SC...elevated to a Tropical Storm Warning on Wednesday at 11 AM. Following eye landfall, the Hurricane Warning from Surf City NC to Cape Fear NC was lowered to a Tropical Storm Warning, and all warnings south were dropped. At 11 PM, all warnings were dropped along the North Carolina coast.

Satellite Image of Hurricane Isabel


Actual Track of Isabel (click to enlarge)
Actual Track of Isabel

NHC's 5-day Forecast compared to Isabel's actual track (click to enlarge)
NHC's 5-day Forecast compared to Isabel's actual track


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Plot of Highest Winds

Hurricane Isabel Wind Gusts







Highest Winds (Note: Official NWS or FAA sites are shaded in gray)

Location Peak Wind (Direction/Speed) Time (EDT)
Pender County
Holly Shelter 310/61 mph 1620
Topsail Beach 58 mph 1030
New Hanover County
Wilmington Intl. Airport Sustained: 260/45 mph 1743
Gust: 260/59 1744
WECT-TV at Shipyard Blvd. 53 mph unknown
Battleship North Carolina 49 mph unknown
Isabelle Holmes Bridge 57 mph 0930
NC State Port (21 m, 70 ft) 66 mph 1000-1100
Wrightsville Beach Police Dept. NNW 45 mph 1100
Wrightsville Beach Fire Dept. NW 60 mph 0830
Wrightsville Beach Oceanic Pier 56 mph 1728
Carolina Beach NW 52 mph 1005
Kure Beach Pier 47 mph 1205
Kure Beach La Que Center NW 55 mph 0900
Brunswick County
Sunny Point Military Ocean Terminal W 52 mph 1620
Southport NC State Pilot 65 mph 1934
Southport Elementary 53 mph unknown
Southport Brunswick Co. Airport NW 51 mph 1200
Holden Beach Sustained: W 28 Gust: 45 mph 1550
Ocean Isle Beach 57 mph 1200
Horry County
North Myrtle Beach Airport Gust: 290/33 mph 1614
Myrtle Beach Airport Gust: 300/32 mph 1400-1600
Springmaid Pier (Myrtle Beach) Sustained: W/28 mph Gust: W/45 mph 1545
Little River 41 mph 1323
Loris EMS Station 43 mph 1342
Conway 26 mph unknown
Myrtle Beach Pavilion 39 mph 1238
Socastee 36 mph unknown
Garden City 32 mph 1004
Georgetown County
Pawley's Island 40 mph 1224
Georgetown Fire Dept. 36 mph 1620
Florence County
Florence Airport Sustained: 300/25 mph 1805
Gust: 290/38 mph 1711
Florence city 34 mph 1437
Lake City 33 mph 1325
Robeson County
Lumberton Airport Sustained: 30/37 mph 1521
Gust: 300/52 mph 1537
Bladen County
Elizabethtown Airport Sustained: 300/25 mph 1920
Gust: 270/50 mph 1740
Columbus County
Whiteville Chamber of Commerce 49 mph unknown
Offshore Waters
Frying Pan Shoals Tower (coastal waters)...145 ft. ASL 8 min avg. Sustained: WNW/72 mph 1030-1330
Gust: WNW 82 mph 1030-1330


North Carolina

  • Wilmington Intl. Airport: 1.98"

  • Wilmington WECT-TV (Shipyard Blvd.): 2.24"

  • Cape Fear Lock and Dam 1: 1.98"

  • Whiteville 7NW: 4.16"

  • Whiteville Chamber of Commerce: 4.51"

  • Whiteville 5S: 3.37"

  • Elizabethtown: 2.26"

  • Southport Brunswick Co. Airport: 1.95"

  • Shallotte 5W: 3.20"

  • Longwood: 3.10"

  • Tobermory: 2.17"

  • Lumberton: 3.39"

  • Lumberton 3SE: 3.32"

South Carolina

  • North Myrtle Beach: 0.83"

  • Myrtle Beach: 0.43"

  • Loris: 1.34"

  • Conway: 0.25"

  • Cades: 0.00"

  • Florence: 0.06"

  • Mullins: 0.76"

  • Pee Dee: 0.29"

  • Bennettsville 1N: 0.33"

  • Dillon: 0.80"

Wilmington, NC Radar Estimated Precipitation from Isabel

Lowest Pressure:

  • NWS Weather Forecast Office Wilmington, NC: 990.5 MB at 1443 EDT.

  • CMAN FPSN7 Frying Pan Shoals Tower: 993.4 MB at 1300 EDT.

Storm Tides: One-half to One foot above normal.

Beach Erosion: Moderate Erosion in vicinity of Cape Fear (Bald Head Island). Minor Erosion on North Carolina east facing beaches north of Cape Fear, and some sand accretion. None reported elsewhere.

Flooding: Rainwater ponding on roadways mainly in Brunswick and Columbus Counties.

Tornadoes: None.

Storm Effects: Damage described as comparatively minor, including on barrier islands where scattered roof shingles and siding were lost. Across Southeast North Carolina, there were limbs and several trees downed, some on cars and a few houses. There were no damage reports from South Carolina.

Deaths or Injuries: None Reported.

Power: Brief outages, mainly in Southeast North Carolina.

Evacuations: Voluntary along North Carolina barrier islands.

Wilmington, NC Radar as Eyewall of Isabel moves ashore Wilmington, NC Radar as Isabel makes landfall