2003 Chase Summaries

Sep 18, 2003:    Hurricane Isabel

Brian A. Morganti

I sat on the fence for several days trying to decide whether I wanted to head to NC to meet the eye of Isabel, or target the northeast quadrant of the hurricane in hopes of finding a mini-supercell and possibly a tornado imbedded within one of the convective bands. I knew the latter was a long shot, but felt that I could still experience hurricane force winds and at the same time avoid all the media frenzy closer to the eye. Besides, I wouldn't need to worry about any bridge closures on my way back home!

I left home here in SE PA around 6:30 AM EDT targeting the eastern shore of VA near the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. This is the 17 mile long causeway that connects the southern DELMARVA peninsula with VA Beach, VA at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Having lived and worked in that area for many years, I was well aware that the bridge would be closed due to high winds long before my arrival---fully committing me to my northern target region. A hurricane warning was already in effect for the southern half of the DELMARVA, and an MD had just been issued for the possibility of tornadoes. By 9:30 AM I arrived in Ocean City, MD, which was on the northern most edge of my target region. A tornado watch box was now in effect for the entire peninsula just to my south.

I really wanted to film some large wind swept breakers, but it seemed like a news media truck was parked at every entrance to the boardwalk. I finally found a quiet area on the boardwalk to shoot some video and slides of the 15 to 20 foot high breakers that were exploding on the beach. I didn't stay too long since it was impossible to fully protect my cameras from the rain and the sand being blown about by the near gale force winds.


From this point south, I was really on my own as every gas station, fast food joint, restaurant, etc. was closed and sealed with plywood. Stratiform clouds with an occasional heavy burst of rain would be the main show south all the way to the entrance of the Bridge-Tunnel. As Isabel was making landfall around 1:30 PM EDT I recorded steady NE winds 30 - 40 MPH with gusts to 52 MPH. SAT images showed a somewhat clear area with imbedded convective towers well out to sea that might move inland a little further back north. This would help destabilize the lower half of the peninsula, and anything would be an improvement over the current 73/72 conditions!  A few miles north I followed a tree lined road right up to the ocean and the incoming tidal surge. I stopped to film the flooded roadway right in front of me as wind swept breakers crashed a couple hundred yards away. Beyond that was a large club house that seemed to be drifting out to sea!


I took my pictures and backed up quickly before any of those trees could come crashing down behind me (I had a chain saw packed just in case). Similar scenes unfolded as I took other sojourns to the ocean to the east, or the bay just to my west. But where were those breaks in the clouds!? I continued to monitor winds right up until dark, but never did observe any breaks in the solid cloud shield. I recorded my strongest winds between 6:45 and 7:30 PM EDT south of Accomack, VA. Sustained ESE 42 - 48 MPH with numerous gusts to 55 MPH, and one gust to 60 MPH. Dang...I really wanted that 74 MPH gust. Structures are few and far between in this area, but I did observe numerous trees down and completely blocking large sections of the main north-south highway 13. Several older style billboards were either torn into pieces or uprooted. Gas pumps had been knocked over, but I did not see any overhead gas station canopies that had fallen. I witnessed numerous multi-colored power flashes on my way back home, the colors rivaling those of any fireworks display. I arrived back home in PA at 1 AM and was still located NE of the circulation center. Isabel finally got a chance to play with me by knocking down tons of branches and leaf debris around my home early Friday morning, and cutting off the electric for most of the day. Total chase miles: 636