Hurricane Isabel 20 years later: Virginia’s costliest natural disaster

Hurricane Isabel 20 years later: Virignia’s costliest natural disaster
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2023 at 2:11 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Hurricane Isabel is considered one of the worst hurricanes to hit Virginia.

Isabel originated in the Atlantic and first became a tropical storm near the Cape Verde Islands on Sept. 6, 2003. The very next day, it strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane.

It eventually became a massive Category 5 hurricane with maximum winds near 165 mph. Isabel made a slow north-northwest turn as it approached the United States, weakening to a Category 2 storm.

The hurricane was well forecasted, and Hurricane Watches and Warnings were issued in advance for residents to prepare.

Isabel landed 20 years ago on the North Carolina Outer Banks between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras. Landfall coincided with high tide, which made storm surge impacts even worse.

According to the National Weather Service, Isabel produced storm surges 6 to 8 feet above normal tide levels near landfall. There were storm surges of 4-6 feet along the Virginia coast, bringing flooding to the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River and the James River.

Damage from storm surge was noted as far inland as Colonial Beach, West Point, Tappahannock and even Hopewell. The storm moved inland through Virginia into West Virginia and eventually Ohio. But the impacts Isabel brought Virginia were devastating.

Isabel left over 2 million without power, taking down thousands of trees and power poles and triggering deadly flash flooding.

Hundreds of homes were damaged, and fallen trees blocked hundreds of roads. It’s estimated Isabel left behind $1 billion in damage, making it Virginia’s costliest natural disaster.