August 2, 2013
Remembering hurricanes Emily and Isabel
By IRENE NOLAN
we head into August and the period for the most intense hurricane
activity in the eastern Atlantic, we pause to remember two catastrophic
hurricanes that have significant anniversaries this year.
Emily “brushed” the Outer Banks on Aug. 31, 1993 – 20 years ago.
And Hurricane Isabel slammed Hatteras village on Sept. 18, 2003 – 10
Theirs is the tale of two very different hurricanes, both of which had impacts that won’t be soon forgotten.
were not particularly strong storms on the National Weather Service’s
Saffir-Simpson Scale as they approached Hatteras, but they caused
damage of historic proportions. And the damage was not caused only by
wind in either case, but mostly by storm surge.
Emily caused terrific storm surge from the Pamlico Sound and Isabel brought a devastating surge from the Atlantic Ocean.
Emily was not a really impressive storm as it moved through the
Atlantic Ocean on a path that would take it very close to Hatteras
According to the National Weather Service, “The tropical
wave that spawned Emily moved off the West Coast of Africa on Aug. 17,
1993 and into the Cape Verde Islands. Five days later, a tropical
depression formed about 700 miles east-northeast of Puerto Rico. The
system moved northwest for two days before encountering weak steering
currents and becoming stationary as it began to intensify.
ridge eventually built north of Emily on Aug. 26, causing the system to
move toward the west while 900 miles east of Florida. After briefly
becoming a hurricane on Aug. 26, the storm fluctuated in intensity
between a hurricane and a tropical storm as it moved west-northwest. As
Emily rotated around the ridge, it moved more to the north.”
continued and by the time Emily came within 13 miles of Cape Hatteras
on Aug. 31, it had become a Category 3 storm.
Luckily for the
Outer Banks, the hurricane veered north just offshore of Hatteras, but
the southern part of the island was in Emily’s western eyewall for an
hour and a half. This caused a terrific and destructive storm
surge from the Pamlico Sound.
Wally DeMaurice, who was then
director of the Weather Service office in Buxton, said the storm surge
in Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras was the highest in living memory.
At more than 10 feet, the surge, he said, was higher than in the
hurricanes of 1933 and 1944 – and probably the highest since an 1846
storm opened Oregon and Hatteras inlets.
Needless to say, the destruction to homes and businesses was devastating.
the other hand, Isabel was a monster of a storm as it moved across the
Atlantic toward its rendezvous with Hatteras village on Sept. 18, 2003.
was only a Category 2 hurricane when it made landfall between Ocracoke
Inlet and Cape Lookout. However, its history was very different from
Hurricane Isabel began as a strong tropical wave off the
coast of Africa in early September. It became a tropical
depression and then was christened Tropical Storm Isabel on Sept.
6. By the next day, it was a minimal hurricane, but it rapidly
progressed up the Saffir-Simpson scale. A day later, on Sept. 8,
Isabel was a Category 4 with winds of 135 mph. The winds kept
going up and on Sept. 11, it became a Category 5 with winds measuring
160 mph. The 160-mph winds persisted for the better part of three
days. After that the storm went briefly back to a Category 4,
back up to a Category 5, and then back down to a 4 before becoming a
Category 3 on Sept. 15.
Isabel was downgraded to a
Category 2 on Sept. 16 and stayed there until it made landfall.
However, the wave energy that built up as the storm churned over the
ocean as a Category 4 and 5 sealed the fate of Hatteras village.
Isabel storm surge came off the ocean – a surge of maybe 6 to 8 feet
with huge waves on top of it that just about wiped out the eastern edge
of the village and cut a new inlet between Frisco and Hatteras.
These are not storms that will be soon forgotten by any of us who lived through them.
although these anniversaries are not cause for celebration, they are
certainly a good reason to pause and remember the resiliency of
islanders and the triumph of the human spirit.
The articles on this “milestones” page include stories that I and others wrote after both of these storms.
was before there was an Island Free Press when I worked for another
publication that covered Hatteras and Ocracoke at the time, but these
stories are still worth reading today, which is why we share them with
Reading them again brought back a lot of memories – some not good at all and others, bittersweet.
especially liked what Anne Bowers wrote in a story about Hurricane
Isabel, the destruction, the recovery effort, and the inlet that
divided Hatteras Island.
“Disasters such as Hurricane Isabel
break down more than property and buildings,” she wrote in a story that
is posted on this page. “They also break down the barriers that
sometimes divide people. Because of Isabel, all of us are on the
same side, fighting the same fight: food, water, shelter. For
now, we are divided only by water.”
want to thank all of the writers who contributed to these stories, and
the many islanders who sent photos for the Hurricane Isabel slide
show. The photos were collected and posted by Hatteras Designs on
the website, www.hatterasonmymind.com.
Many folks sent in photos and we don’t know who all of them are, but
the chief photographer for Hatteras Designs was Buddy Swain of Hatteras
village. He and Jim Boyd designed the website, and although the
photos have been taken down now, they provided many of them to Island
Thanks also to the National Weather Service and the very good information provided by the meteorologists there.
We welcome more photos and more stories of survival and recovery on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Send them to [email protected].