Isabel Packs Powerful Punch

September 12, 2003

Hopefully neither Bermuda, nor anyone else will have to face Hurricane Isabel. According to the latest bulletin from the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s maximum sustained winds are now around 160 mph (260 kph). That would classify Isabel as a category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the Saffir/Simpson Scale, similar in strength to Andrew when it struck Southern Florida in 1992.

So far Isabel is safely out to sea, about 455 miles (735 kms) west of the Northern Leeward Islands, but she’s moving west at a leisurely 9 mph (15 kph). The NHC noted that some reorganization was taking place in the storm, and that it could lose some force during the next 24 hours. It also indicated that this was a more or less normal pattern for major hurricanes.

Although considerably smaller in diameter than Fabian, with winds extending around 60 miles (95 kms) from the center, the storm’s power makes it extremely dangerous. A category 5 storm, i.e. one with winds in excess of 155 mph (135 knots or 249 km/hr), can produce a storm surge “generally greater than 18 ft [6 meters] above normal,” according to the NHC. It also results in “complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings.”

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