The 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season was one of the most active seasons in the last ten years. As a matter of fact, it was the most active season since 1995 with 16 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes, which were all above average. Among those storms were Hurricane Fabian, Hurricane Isabel, and Hurricane Juan, which all made their marks on hurricane history. Fabian became the worst storm to hit the resort island of Bermuda in over 50 years. Isabel was the strongest hurricane since 1998, and Juan was the worst hurricane to make landfall near Halifax in over 100 years. In addition, the season finished quite furiously with two named storms in the month of December for the first time on record.
It has been quite an active period for hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic. Forecasters have been warning for quite some time that the Atlantic would see an active period for hurricanes and storms that would last several decades.
Those dire forecasts became reality in the 1995 Atlantic Hurricane Season when there were a total of 19 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. Included in that bunch were Hurricane Allison, which formed the very first week of the season, Hurricane Erin, which made two landfalls in Florida, Hurricane Felix, Hurricane Luis, Hurricane Marilyn, Hurricane Opal, and Hurricane Roxanne.
Since 1995, there have been a total of 112 named storms, 72 hurricanes, and 36 major hurricanes including 9 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes to start the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The 2003 season only had less than half the number of named storms become hurricanes, but it also had another five tropical depressions. So, if things had worked out the way that happened to in 1995, where just about every depression became a tropical storm, the 2003 Season would have matched 1933 for the most named storms with 21.
By the way, the 1933 season also was a season that had less than fifty percent of its named storms become hurricanes as only ten named storms emerged from the 21 storms that developed that year including two powerful hurricanes that ravaged the Mid-Atlantic including the Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of September, 1933. A hurricane that had the potential to end up on the same level as that Mid-Atlantic hurricane from 1933 was Hurricane Isabel, the most powerful hurricane to develop in the Atlantic since Hurricane Mitch in October, 1998.
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In September, 2003, there were two powerful hurricanes that formed during the month. The first was Hurricane Fabian, which hammered Bermuda with 125 mph winds. Right on its heels was Hurricane Isabel, which started out slowly, but then rapidly intensified from a Tropical Storm into a Category Five Hurricane in a period of 84 hours. It then held that strength for 36 hours, which had only been done by four other hurricanes ever recorded.
However, it began to lose its luster as it underwent shear as well as problems that often occur with such powerful storms such as concentric eyewalls. It did fluctuate for a short period of time between Category Four and Category Five, but it eventually would weaken to just a strong Category Two Hurricane with winds between 105 and 110 mph. Nonetheless, it still was a very potent and dangerous storm that happened to grow very large in size as a result of its weakening.
The increase in diameter was due in part to the system having to conserve momentum and energy. Hurricanes are much like skaters. When they go into a spin, they pull their arms in to increase their rotational speed. Same thing with hurricanes. When they decrease in size, their winds go up, but when the winds wane, the storm increases in size. Isabel still remained a threat to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Coast. Places such as the Tidewater and Virginia Capes area of Virginia had not received a direct hit from a major hurricane since that Chesapeake Bay storm in 1933.
Isabel would eventually come ashore in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina, and then move over the Southern Appalachians. Rainfall amounts ranged between 8 to 12 inches with an extreme of just over 20 inches in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Storm surge along the coast ranged between 3 to 6.5 feet above normal. Moreover, the storm combined with strong high pressure to the north to create a pressure gradient that exacerbated the windy conditions throughout the vast area affected by the storm. When, it was all said and done, Isabel was responsible in some shape or form for 50 deaths, and approximately $3.37 billion dollars in damage. It went down as the most powerful hurricane to hit Virginia and North Carolina since Hurricane Hazel in October, 1954.
There would be another seven named storms to round out the 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season with only two of them becoming hurricanes in Juan and Kate. Juan ended up ravaging the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island with winds over 100 mph in September. Juan was the strongest hurricane to make impact with Nova Scotia's capital city of Halifax since 1893. Meanwhile, Kate would be the last hurricane of the season, and it ended up being a major hurricane with 125 mph winds in early October.
After that, there would be three more named storms in October in Larry, Mindy, and Nicholas. Nicholas was the strongest of the three with 70 mph winds while Larry caused extensive flooding that left some five people dead. Larry also had 65 mph winds. However, even though there were no storms in the entire month of November, the season was still not over. Although the official end to the hurricane season is on November 30th, activity continued in December with two named storms for the first time ever on record.
First, Tropical Storm Odette formed in the North Atlantic on December 4th, and lasted a few days with its maximum winds reaching 65 mph. Then, as Odette was fading, another storm, Tropical Storm Peter developed and grew to have winds of 70 mph before losing tropical characteristics, and being absorbed by the same low that had absorbed Odette. So, after a quiet end to 2002, things perked up again in the latter portion of the season like it has for many of the hurricane seasons since 1994.
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