Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
An important weather date that occurred during my baby break was the 10th anniversary of the costliest natural disaster in Virginia history.
On Sept. 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel came ashore in North Carolina's Outer Banks as a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds. Isabel's circulation center tracked northwestward across Virginia as it slowly weakened, dumping flooding rains, toppling trees and knocking out power to millions as it did so.
A total of 32 Virginians died in Isabel and its aftermath, and damage totaled nearly $2 billion in Virginia alone. More than 1,100 houses were destroyed and more than 9,000 damaged, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Across Hampton Roads, the Richmond metro area, and through central and Northern Virginia into the Shenandoah Valley, Isabel has carved out a deep track in collective weather memories.
But if you live in the Roanoke and New River valleys and southwestward, you can be forgiven for not having a strong experiential memory connected to Hurricane Isabel.
That's because Isabel didn't really do that much around here. Southwest Virginia was almost completely spared the havoc the storm wreaked on the rest of the commonwealth.
Rainfall amounts in the Roanoke and New River valleys were generally 1 to 2 inches, with some larger amounts on higher ridges where upslope easterly flow off the tropical system squeezed out more rain.
Roanoke's peak wind gust was 44 mph, a modest number compared to a typical winter cold front, while Blacksburg's wind gusts peaked at only 30 mph. Rainfall and wind speeds were much less farther west and southwest, with the southwest corner of the state almost entirely missing Isabel's effects.
A Thursday evening nationally televised football game between Virginia Tech and Texas A&M was played without delay at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, despite constant breezy rain. It was an uncomfortable night at the stadium, but not dangerous.
Southwest Virginia lucked out with Isabel. Its track simply never put Southwest Virginia in the heavier rain squalls or wind gusts.
You didn't have to go far to find much different, however. Lynchburg got nearly 4 inches of rain from Isabel, while floodwaters inundated houses in Rockbridge County.
And Southwest Virginia visitors to the Outer Banks or Hampton Roads could see the storm's painful impact on those areas long afterward.
At one time in its journey across the Atlantic, Isabel was a Category 5 hurricane with winds topping 160 mph.
Studies show that it is highly unlikely that a Category 5 hurricane could reach the shore of the mid-Atlantic, but a Category 4 storm, with winds above 130 mph, is probably within the realm of possibility. Certainly a Category 3 storm, with winds above 110 mph, is possible.
So a storm worse than Isabel is possible in Virginia.
And even though we are far away from the coast, tropical systems arriving on the Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf of Mexico shore have proven historically they can cause lots of problems in Southwest Virginia.
Isabel wasn't Southwest Virginia's storm, but just a year later, the circulation centers of hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne moved directly through the region in a four-week period of September, causing flash floods and spawning tornadoes.
There's another named storm with our name on it sometime in the future.
Weather JournalBreather before next wintry system