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Hurricane Isabel, a look back 17 years later

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 10:20 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Hurricane Isabel is the most recent hurricane to have devastating effects on the Shenandoah Valley, striking the area 17 years ago on September 18th.

Hurricane Isabel is the most recent hurricane to have devastating effects on the Shenandoah Valley.

Hurricane development toward the end of hurricane season usually comes from African waves. These storms travel across the Atlantic, giving them ample time to strengthen over the warm ocean waters.

Isabel started as a wave on September 1st, strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane by September 11th, and made landfall by September 18. After landfall near Ocracoke in the Outer Banks, the storm traveled right through Virginia.

Hurricane Isabel prior to making landfall in September, 2003.
Hurricane Isabel prior to making landfall in September, 2003.(WHSV)

In the Shenandoah Valley, the ground was already saturated because of above average rainfall for the summer. With Isabel, widespread rain of three to seven inches fell across the Valley and the Highlands.

However, a band of continuous rain set up around southeast Augusta County. Three hundred and fifty people were evacuated after 6 inches of rain fell around the Sherando area. When the rain stopped, the rain gauge at Upper Sherando was at 20.2″ of rain. With twenty inches of rain falling in Upper Sherando, flash flooding took place along the rivers, including the South River, which led to flash flooding in Waynesboro and surrounding areas.

Here’s a look at some of the reported rainfall totals from across the area.

Big Meadows 11.10″

Skyland (SNP) 9.54″

Ida (Page county) 8.59″

Stuarts Draft: 6.50″

Grottoes: 6.25″

Waynesboro: 6.11″

Bayard, WV 5.28″

New Market: 4.50″

Dale Enterprise: 4.17″

Flooding from Isabel in 2003.
Flooding from Isabel in 2003.(WHSV)

This time, it wasn’t just the heavy rain, but winds ranging from thirty to fifty miles an hour also blew across the region. Trees on saturated ground, combined with the strong winds, came crashing down and created power outages.

Isabel was a powerful storm that resulted in thirty-two deaths in the state. Unfortunately, a man canoeing on flood waters in Harrisonburg died.

This is why you should never enter or try to cross flood waters, because you would be risking your life.

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.

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