Hurricane Isaias

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Hurricane Isaias
Category 1 hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Isaias 2020-07-31 1820Z.jpg
Hurricane Isaias near peak intensity over the Bahamas on July 31
FormedJuly 30, 2020
DissipatedAugust 5, 2020
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 85 mph (140 km/h)
Lowest pressure987 mbar (hPa); 29.15 inHg
Fatalities13 direct, 5 indirect
Damage> $76.4 million (2020 USD)
Areas affectedLesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, The Bahamas, East Coast of the United States, Eastern Canada
Part of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Isaias (/ˌsɑːˈɑːs/)[1] was a deadly Category 1 hurricane which impacted portions of the Eastern Caribbean and produced significant damage in the Eastern United States, causing a tornado outbreak featuring the strongest tropical cyclone-spawned tornado since 2005. The ninth named storm and second hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Isaias originated from a vigorous tropical wave off the coast of Africa that was first identified by the National Hurricane Center on July 23. The tropical wave gradually became more organized, and obtained gale-force winds on July 28, before organizing into Tropical Storm Isaias on July 30. Isaias marked the earliest ninth named storm on record, surpassing 2005's Hurricane Irene by eight days. Isaias strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane the next day, reaching a peak intensity of 85 mph (137 km/h) and a pressure of 987 mbar. On August 1, the storm made landfall on North Andros, Bahamas and subsequently weakened to a tropical storm before paralleling the east coast of Florida and Georgia. As it approached the Carolina coastline, it reintensified back into a hurricane shortly before making landfall near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, at 11:10 PM EDT on August 3 as a Category 1 hurricane, and proceeded to accelerate up the East Coast of the United States as a tropical storm before transitioning into an extratropical cyclone over Quebec.

Numerous tropical storm watches and warnings as well as hurricane watches and hurricane warnings were issued for the Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, Bahamas, Cuba, and the East Coast of the United States. Isaias caused devastating flooding and wind damage in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Several towns were left without electricity and drinking water in Puerto Rico. Eighteen people died in storm-related incidents, primarily due to fallen trees and flooding: 15 in the contiguous United States, two in the Dominican Republic, and one in Puerto Rico.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The National Hurricane Center first began tracking a vigorous tropical wave off the west coast of Africa on July 23.[2] The wave gradually organized and became better defined, developing a broad area of low pressure.[3] Though the circulation was broad and disorganized, convection continued to increase over the system, and the system obtained gale-force winds on July 28. Although the system still lacked a well-defined center, imminent threat of tropical cyclonegenesis and tropical storm-force winds to land areas prompted its designation as Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine at 15:00 UTC on July 28.[4] The system moved just south of Dominica on July 29, and at 03:00 UTC on the following day, the system organized sufficiently to become a tropical cyclone. Due to its precursor disturbance already having gale-force winds, it was immediately declared a tropical storm and given the name Isaias.[5] When Tropical Storm Isaias developed, it became the earliest ninth named storm on record, breaking the record of Hurricane Irene in 2005 by eight days. Isaias continued strengthening after reaching tropical storm status, with one-minute sustained winds reaching 60 mph (95 km/h) on July 30 as it made landfall on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. Contrary to predictions by meteorologists, the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola did not weaken the storm, as the system had a broad circulation and developed a new low-pressure center to the north of the island, thus maintaining its intensity.[6]

Early the next day, hurricane hunters unexpectedly found that Isaias strengthened, reaching its initial peak intensity as a Category 1 hurricane, with 1-minute sustained winds of 80 mph (140 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 990 mbar (29.23 inHg).[7] Moderate to strong southwesterly wind shear and dry air entrainment began affecting the storm a few hours later, resulting in the low-level center being exposed near the western edge of the convection. After a brief weakening trend, Isaias began to intensify again, with deep convection firing over the exposed center and an eye feature forming on Bahamian radar. Later that evening, data from another hurricane hunter reconnaissance aircraft confirmed a closed eyewall and a lower minimal central pressure of 987 mbar (29.15 inHg).[8] The storm strengthened afterwards to obtain its peak intensity, with 1-minute sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h), despite a somewhat ragged appearance on satellite imagery.[9] At 15:00 UTC on August 1, Isaias made landfall on Northern Andros Island, Bahamas with winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), slightly weaker than its peak.[10] Land interaction and the continued effects of wind shear and dry air continued to weaken the system, and Isaias dropped below hurricane strength at 21:00 UTC, as its center became completely devoid of convection, although a large burst of convection formed over the center shortly after it moved back over water.[11]

Isaias near its secondary peak near North Carolina
Isaias re-intensifying to a hurricane near the Carolinas on August 3

As the storm approached Southeast Florida, a strong mid-level circulation formed just northeast of the low-level circulation center, spawning intense convection mainly north and east of the LLCC. The storm then paralleled the east coast of Florida and Georgia, with its winds fluctuating between 65–70 miles per hour (105–113 km/h). As the storm turned northeastward, it entered a more favorable environment for strengthening, with wind shear relaxing just enough to allow the storm to redevelop intense convection. The storm began to quickly reintensify, regaining hurricane status at 00:00 UTC on August 4, before reaching a secondary peak intensity, with 1-minute sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 988 mbar (29.18 inHg).[12][13] At 03:10 UTC, the hurricane made landfall near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina at the same intensity.[14] With its landfall Isaias became the earliest fifth named storm to make landfall in the United States. The previous record for the earliest fifth storm to make a U.S. landfall was August 18, set during the 1916 season.[15] Following landfall, Isaias continued to accelerate and only weakened slowly, dropping below hurricane status at 07:00 UTC over North Carolina.[16] Isaias moved quickly to the north-northeast, crossing through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania while losing tropical characteristics. [17][18][19] The system fully lost tropical characteristics and became extratropical at 03:00 UTC on August 5 over southern Quebec, east-southeast of Montreal.[20]

Preparations[edit]

Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine over the Windward Islands on July 29.

Numerous tropical storm, hurricane, and storm surge watches and warnings were issued for areas in the path of Isaias.[21]

Antillean Islands[edit]

The first tropical storm watches and warnings were posted for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti when the system was designated Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine.[21][22][23]

Bahamas[edit]

With the system approaching and strengthening, hurricane warnings were posted for the Northwestern Bahamas at 00:00 UTC on July 31. The sudden upgrade to hurricane status caused all of the Bahamas to go under hurricane warnings at 03:40 UTC.[21]

People living on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands were evacuated before the storm. Many of the citizens were still living in temporary structures due to damage caused by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. Many of the structures were weak and could be easily destroyed by tropical storm and hurricane-force winds. The meteorology department of the Bahamas advised citizens to "hunker down".[24] The government of the Bahamas lifted the COVID-19 lockdown instituted for controlling the virus before the storm so people could freely travel to safer places. Shelters were opened on larger islands in the island chain, with people on smaller, less populated, islands needing to travel to reach a shelter. Bahamas Power and Light shut off electricity to areas at high risk of flooding on New Providence, the most populous island in the Bahamas, until it was safe to re-energize.[25]

United States[edit]

Southeast[edit]

Tropical storm watches were first initiated in Southeast Florida at 21:00 UTC on July 30, with more watches and warnings going up as the storm got closer. Hurricane warnings were issued as the storm approached, but they were downgraded to tropical storm warnings when the storm weakened. Hurricane Warnings were issued for areas near the South CarolinaNorth Carolina border after the storm was forecasted to reach minimal hurricane status again just before landfall. At one point, tropical storm watches and warnings extended over 1,000 miles from Florida to Maine.[21][26] Tornado watches were also issued in northeastern South Carolina and eastern North Carolina.[27]

In anticipation of the storm, the state of Florida closed COVID-19 testing sites on July 30 due to potential impacts from Isaias.[28] The next day, Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the eastern coast of Florida ahead of Isaias.[29]

In Georgia, beaches were closed and the Coast Health District suspended all operations. The Sidney Lanier Bridge in Glynn County was closed at 6 a.m. on August 3 as the storm approached. Savannah's Talmadge Memorial Bridge was also scheduled to close at 2 p.m. that day, but remained open. Inspections were planned for both bridges after the storm passed.[30][31]

On July 31, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm. A mandatory evacuation of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, was issued that same day.[32]

Mid-Atlantic[edit]

Tropical Storm watches and warnings, as well as flood watches and a tornado watch, were issued as Isaias appoached the region.[21][33] In Maryland, multiple closures were announced for August 4 due to the storm's passage, including the Maryland Zoo. All coronavirus testing was halted and multiple counties postponed trash pickups. Free sandbags were also handed out to Baltimore residents and some city parking garages allowed cars to be stored in them during the storm free of charge as well.[34]

Northeast[edit]

Just before the storm arrived, a state of emergency was issued for the entire state of New Jersey.[35]

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio stated in a press conference on July 31 that the city would be monitoring the storm, but that the projections looked "pretty favorable".[36] On August 2, in a press call with reporters, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said, in conjunction with a press release by New York City Emergency Management, that models showed Isaias hitting the NYC and Long Island area with sustained winds of 50 to 65 mph and 3 to 6 inches of rain by Tuesday August 4.[37][38] On August 3, the National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning for the New York City, with Emergency Management issuing a Travel advisory that evening, stating that the strongest of the storm would be from 12 PM to 2 PM (EST) on August 4.[39][40] On the morning of August 4, a Tornado watch was issued for New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and a portion of Connecticut.[41]

Tropical storm watches were issued for the New England states as the storm began to move up the coast of Florida before being upgraded into warnings as the storm accelerated towards the region.[21] A tornado watch was also issued for Southern New England on the morning of August 4.[42] Flood watches were also issued for western portions of the region.[43][44]

Canada[edit]

On the morning of August 4, Environment Canada's Hurricane Forecasting Center estimated that Isaias, as a post-tropical storm, would pass through Montérégie and the Cantons de l'Est in the evening and reach the Quebec region on Wednesday morning. 30-50 millimeters (1-2 inches) of rain were expected.[45]

Impacts[edit]

Deaths and damage by country
Country State/Territory Total
deaths
Damage
(USD)
Source
Dominican Republic 2 unknown [46][47]
United States
Connecticut 2 unknown [48][49]
Delaware 1 $20 million [50][51]
Florida 0 minimal [52]
Maryland 1 unknown [53]
New Hampshire 1 unknown [54]
New Jersey 2 unknown [55][56]
New York 1 unknown [57]
North Carolina 4 >$40 million [58][59][60]
Pennsylvania 2 unknown [61][62]
Puerto Rico 1 >$14 million [63][64]
South Carolina 0 >$2.4 million [65]
Virginia 1 >$2.2 million [66][67]
Total 16 unknown
Totals: 18 >$78.6 million

Caribbean[edit]

Most of the Caribbean islands were suffering from moderate to severe drought conditions from an unusually dry spring and early summer. The drought was particularly severe in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with the governor of Puerto Rico declaring a state of emergency in late June and ordering rationing of water, subjecting residents in affected areas to 24-hour water shutoffs every other day. Heavy rain from Isaias and its precursor disturbance alleviated drought in many areas of the Caribbean.[68]

Lesser Antilles[edit]

The precursor to Isaias brought squally conditions to the Windward Islands. Rainfall peaked at 3.13 inches (8.0 cm) in the town of Salisbury, on the island of Dominica.[68]

Greater Antilles[edit]

Pitahaya River in Luquillo, a northern municipality of Puerto Rico, on August 1 after being flooded by Isaias' rains.

In Puerto Rico, about 448,000 people and 23 hospitals lost power and about 150,000 people lost water service due to electric blackouts and blocked intakes.[69][70] The entire city of Yauco had no power, and all roads leading to the town were either flooded or blocked by fallen trees.[71] Many surrounding towns in eastern Puerto Rico also had no drinking water nor electricity from a lack of access to the areas of damage. Three gates on the Carraízo reservoir dam in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, were opened because of runoff from Isaias.[72] A woman was dragged by a river in Rincón, Puerto Rico while she was crossing a bridge due to heavy rain; she was found dead two days later.[63][73] Due to the extensive damage, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration request from Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vázquez Garced.[72] Mayagüez, one of the hardest-hit municipalities, saw damage exceeding $13 million.[64]

One person was killed in El Seibo Province, in the Dominican Republic, when a power line fell on his horse a few feet away from him, killing him and the animal.[46] A 5-year-old boy was also killed when a tree fell and crushed his home in Altamira in Puerto Plata province.[47] Widespread flooding was reported in Hato Mayor del Rey, a town of 70,000 inhabitants.[74] The storm had limited effects in neighboring Haiti with damage reported to a few homes and crops.[75]

Bahamas[edit]

Isaias passed over the Bahamas from July 31 to August 1, hitting some areas still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian a year before. Tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rain damaged roofs and toppled trees.[25] Initial damage assessments began on August 2, with reports indicating damage in the Berry Islands and Andros Island was generally minor.[76]

United States[edit]

Isaias caused over 2.7 million power outages along the east coast, with almost half of them occurring in New Jersey.[77] Additionally, 109 tornado warnings were issued across 12 states with 36 tornadoes touching down, seven of which were significant (EF2+).[78][79][80]

Florida[edit]

The outer rainbands of Isaias began to impact the Florida Peninsula on August 1, bringing gusty winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding to the area. There were some reports of power outages due to downed power lines, but damage was mostly minor and far less than originally expected due to a weakened Isaias.[52]

The Carolinas[edit]

Hurricane Isaias making landfall near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina as seen on weather radar.

Hurricane Isaias generated the third highest high tide ever recorded in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and trees and power lines were knocked down in Myrtle Grove, North Carolina, by the rapidly-forming northern eyewall as the storm came ashore.[81][82] In North Myrtle Beach alone, 483 properties suffered damage; losses exceeded $2.4 million in the city.[65] Throughout the Carolinas, over 400,000 people lost power at the height of the storm, mostly in North Carolina.[82][83] Heavy damage was inflicted to multiple homes in Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, including three that were destroyed in the latter community by a large fire. Damage in Holden Beach alone exceeded $40 million.[60] At least 109 baby sea turtles were found dead in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina following the storm’s landfall.[84]

Favorable shear profiles also led to widespread tornado warnings with 14 tornadoes touching down.[81][78][79] On August 3, a waterspout came ashore and struck Bald Head Island and Southport, North Carolina, causing major EF2 damage. Later, another waterspout came ashore on Garden City Beach, South Carolina as an EF0 tornado, injuring one. Early on August 4, a large EF3 tornado obliterated a mobile home park south of Windsor, North Carolina, killing two and injuring 14. This was the strongest tornado spawned by a tropical cyclone since Hurricane Rita spawned an F3 tornado in Clayton, Louisiana, on September 24, 2005.[58] A suspected tornado near Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina generated a huge TDS, prompting a rare PDS tornado warning.[79]

Tree downed by Isaias in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Isaias indirectly led to the death of two people in Wilmington, North Carolina, on August 5. Both men were clearing debris when lightning from a thunderstorm struck and killed them.[59]

Mid-Atlantic[edit]

Across Virginia and Maryland, Isaias left about 400,000 people without power.[85] Nearly 100,000 residences lost power in Delaware.[86] One person was killed after a tree fell on his moving vehicle in St. Mary's County, Maryland.[53] A woman in Milford, Delaware, was killed when a tree branch struck her while she was surveying damage.[50][87] A storm related death was reported in Lancaster County, Virginia without further details.[66] High winds overturned three tractor trailers along the U.S. Route 50 bridge over the Choptank River in Cambridge, Maryland.[88] Winds from the storm caused roof damage and downed trees and wires in Ocean City, Maryland.[89] In the Delaware beach towns in Sussex County, winds from the storm knocked down trees, signs, and wires. Damage to the beaches was minimal.[90] The storm caused heavy wind damage to homes, trees, and fences in a neighborhood in Bear, Delaware.[91]

Multiple tornado warnings were issued throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, including one for a storm that moved directly through Hampton Roads, with 15 tornadoes across the region.[78][79] An EF2 tornado caused major damage in Courtland, Virginia while EF0 and EF1 tornadoes hit Downtown Suffolk, Virginia.[81] The latter two tornadoes damaged or destroyed 110 structures in Suffolk with losses estimated at $2.2 million.[67] Another EF2 tornado caused considerable damage in Kilmarnock, Virginia. As that tornado lifted at around 6:00 am, another EF2 tornado hit Mardela Springs, Maryland, knocking down several trees and lifting a home off its foundation. Yet another EF2 tornado touched down in George Island Landing, Maryland around 7:20 am, destroying several chickenhouses.[92][93] An additional EF1 tornado traveled along a 29.2-mile (47.0 km) track across Kent and New Castle counties in Delaware. This tornado struck Dover around 9:00 am, causing significant damage to trees and buildings. A middle school in Dover had portions of its roof torn away, streets were flooded, and power outages were reported, with a state of emergency declared in the city. This was the longest-tracked tornado ever documented in the state of Delaware, breaking the previous record of 18 miles.[94][better source needed] A tree fell onto a home in Smyrna.[92][93] The tornado also caused damage to homes in Middletown.[95][96] The storm also produced an EF0 tornado in Queenstown, Maryland and an EF1 tornado in Sandtown, Delaware.[97] Throughout the state, damage is estimated to be in excess of $20 million.[51]

Northeast[edit]

Damage from an EF2 tornado spawned by Isaias in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Isaias was the second tropical cyclone to affect the Northeastern States in a 3-week time span after Tropical Storm Fay in early July.[98]

In Pennsylvania, widespread flooding occurred in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The on and off-ramps of Interstate 95 at Broad Street were closed due to flooding.[99] Water rescues were made in Belmont Hills and Chadds Ford. In Prospect Park, flooding occurred along Lincoln Avenue.[100] The Perkiomen Creek in Graterford, Pennsylvania crested at a record-high of 19.4 feet (5.9 m), with streets flooding in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.[101] The storm caused flooding along the Schuylkill River in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, with residents of an apartment complex evacuated.[102] An unsecured barge along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia broke loose from flooding caused by the storm and struck the Vine Street Expressway Bridge that carries Interstate 676 across the river, causing a portion of Interstate 676 to be closed and SEPTA Regional Rail service to be suspended.[103] A 44-year-old woman died when her vehicle was swept downstream in a flooded area of Upper Saucon Township and a child was found dead in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania after going missing during the height of the storm.[61][62] An EF0 tornado was confirmed in Worcester Township, Pennsylvania. An EF2 tornado traveled across Philadelphia and Bucks counties along a path from Northeast Philadelphia to Doylestown. This tornado caused damage to buildings and trees near the Philadelphia Mills shopping mall and caused significant damage and power outages in Doylestown, where cars were overturned and the roof was ripped off a daycare at Doylestown Hospital.[97][104]

Storm debris from Isaias in New York's Roosevelt Island

In New Jersey, the storm brought a wind gust of 109 mph (175 km/h) just off the coast, as well as heavy rainfall, causing numerous power outages.[105][106] Winds from the storm brought down a church steeple in Ocean City.[107] Multiple tornadoes continued touch down throughout the region, including a large wedge EF1 tornado that caused considerable damage in Strathmere and Marmora in Upper Township, New Jersey.[93][108] Another tornado occurred in Barnegat Township, New Jersey.[105][108] In Wildwood, numerous businesses and motels lost their roofs due to 70+ mph wind gusts.[109] Service on multiple NJ Transit rail lines was suspended due to storm damage.[110] A 21-year-old man drowned off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, due to strong rip currents and rough surf.[55] A man in River Vale, New Jersey was killed after possibly being electrocuted from downed wires while doing yard work to clean up from the storm.[56]

In New York City, a person was killed when a tree fell on their car in Queens.[57] The New York City Subway service at outdoor stations was suspended in the afternoon, due to sustained winds over 39 mph (63 km/h).[111][better source needed][112] Service along the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road was also suspended. There were over 3,100 trees knocked down by the storm in Queens, causing power outages and damage to homes. A woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition after being struck in the head by a falling tree branch in Brooklyn. A building in Brooklyn partially collapsed as a result of storm damage, resulting in evacuations. Numerous trees and wires were brought down in Nassau County, New York on Long Island. Several trees were blown down by the wind in Rockland County, New York.[110] On August 5, officials reported that it would take several days for power to be restored for hundreds of thousands of people in both New Jersey and New York. Governor Cuomo announced an investigation of utility companies handling of being prepared for the storm.[113]

Tree fallen over vehicle in Waterford, Connecticut.

The southern shoreline of Connecticut along the Long Island Sound saw relatively high wind gusts near 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), and certain beaches were affected by storm surges.[114] The storm also left roughly 700,000 Connecticut residents without power, including 625,000 customers of Eversource Energy.[115] and 80,000 customers of The United Illuminating Company. The statewide power outage that was caused by the storm resulted in Governor Ned Lamont issuing both a State of Emergency as well as a public probe into energy companies in Connecticut, stating on Twitter, "Several years ago, Connecticut experienced large-scale outages that took days to recover from, and we were told that the utilities were improving their resources so that they can be prepared for the next time Mother Nature inevitably hits again. And now here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm."[116] Throughout New England as a whole, the strongest winds were observed on Mount Washington, which recorded a gust of 147 miles per hour (237 km/h), the strongest wind gust ever recorded on the mountain in August.[117] Multiple tornado warnings were issued as the storm moved through the region, with an EF1 tornado touching down in Saugatack Shores, Connecticut.[79] Two people died after being hit by falling trees in Naugatuck, Connecticut, and North Conway, New Hampshire.[48][54] Another man was indirectly killed in Newtown, Connecticut in a chainsaw accident while helping a friend cut some downed trees from the storm.[49]

Canada[edit]

By 8 a.m. on August 5, 26,138 Hydro-Quebec customers had lost power. Across the province of Quebec, over 38,189 homes lost power because of the tropical storm. At the height of the storm, nearly 75,000 people were without electricity, more than half of them in the Capitale-Nationale[118], where winds were around 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles / hour)[119]. At Île d'Orléans, gusts of 91 km/h were recorded (56.5 miles / hour)[120]. Further west, Trois-Rivières received 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain and 120 millimeters (4.7 inches) fell in Charlevoix[121]. Overall, damage was only minimal.

Aftermath[edit]

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper, toured the area hit by the EF3 tornado in Windsor, North Carolina, saying it was "devastating" to see what happened to the area.[122]

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey declared a state of emergency as 1.36M were reported without power throughout the state.[123][124] A state of emergency was also declared in 13 counties in New York due to damage caused by the storm.[125] A state of emergency was declared in Connecticut due to 700,000 residents losing power. [126]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]