Hurricane Isabel Comes to Town


Hurricane Isabel arrived in the Hampton Roads area on September 18, 2003; although it had been a powerful Category 5 storm several days before, far out in the Atlantic, when it first made landfall on the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina, it was just barely a Category 2 storm. it was down to only Category 1 by the time it reached us.

Its low rating notwithstanding (by the numbers, it was theoretically only slightly more powerful here than Hurricane Floyd, in 1999), it nevertheless did very severe damage to the Peninsula (incredibly worse than Floyd), for several reasons.

After the storm, over 95% of the people on the Peninsula were without power, and many lost telephone service as well: some when outlying equipment hubs lost power for so long their battery backups were used up; some when extreme tree damage took down main fiber-optic trunks; and some when underground service lines were torn up when trees were uprooted.

Damage to the House and Neighbourhood

Damage to our house was luckily (considering the massive destruction around us) quite light: minor damage to the garage when a tree tilted over onto it (luckily a large branch took most of the weight), including a modest hole in the roof of the garage; and a basement that flooded to about 6" deep, which didn't do much damage as we knew it was coming and got everything of any value out of harm's way. We were lucky there too - water outside the house was much higher than that, but it couldn't get into the basement very quickly. We did dodge a major bullet, though (see below).

There was extremely heavy damage outside, though. We had 6 trees of 2' thick and larger size down (one of them the one on the garage); we lost another one later as a huge (4' across at the base) poplar was leaning on it, and it was too dangerous to try and take the poplar down by itself. We never bothered to try and count the smaller ones. There were three trees across the driveway (one an oak about 2' across), and two down across the power lines along the road in front of my house (one a giant 3' oak).

Damage around the neighbourhood was extensive. After the storm, the road out had close to a dozen major trees down across it. Of the four houses on either side of us, three had trees on them, although none was really badly damaged.


For all the photos, there are modest-sized images on the page; if you click on any of the images, you will be taken to a larger image (size noted below, for those of you on slow links) of the one you clicked on. For most of them, also included is a companion picture showing what it normally/later looks like there.

Storm Photos

Here's one of the only photos I took during the actual storm; it shows the level of the water in the marshlands behind the house. The lower part of the bulkhead, in the center of the picture, is about 6 feet high on the outside face; the water level in the marshland outside it only gets up to the very base of it at the highest normal tides. The top of the low part was several feet under water at the highest surge.

Back Yard Storm Back Yard Normal (469KB, 576KB)

Note that on the very right hand of the first image there's a tree in the far background which is missing in the latter photo; you'll see it below.

Storm Aftermath Photos

Here's a view of that tree that was missing from the previous photo. This one had a bad spot in the heart, which probably contributed to its loss; other large pines which came down were sound, though.

Whole Pine Scale Pine (468KB, 248KB)

Here's the view up the driveway, from next to the house, toward the road. It's a bit difficult to see exactly what's what there, but there are the tops of two trees (from my neighbour's property) across the drive nearer the house, and a large oak completely across the drive behind them; you can see the trunk of it in the second photograph. (The blue car has been backed around the corner in the later photo.) Notice also the huge poplar leaning across the drive in both photos - it was taken down some months later.

Drive House Storm Drive House Normal (593KB, 709KB)

Here's the view back the other way, down the driveway, from the road, toward the house, although it's hard to see the house in the first photo, there's so much in the way. You can see the huge oak that came down across the drive; the trunk was still there in the second photo, some weeks later, as it was suspended in the air over a number of my azaleas, and I was trying to work out how to get it out of there without crushing the azaleas - something we eventually accomplished. We were still able to get cars in and out, though, as we have a circular driveway, and the trunk of the oak only blocked one side.

Drive Road Storm Drive Road Normal (567KB, 656KB)

Here's the view out at the road; our driveway is just on the other side of the paper/mail-boxes in the foreground. The AT&T truck parked in the road belongs to my next-door neighbour, who's a supervisor with AT&T and was out on duty during the storm. You can see the tops of an enormous oak (which took out overhead power lines) reaching over the fence, and almost into the road. In the "after" photo, note the enormous pile of debris on the side of the road in front of our neighbour's house.

Road Left Storm Road Left Normal (573KB, 578KB)

Looking back from the other direction at our large oak which took out the power lines. The second photo shows the left hand part of that area as cleanup progressed; the third photo shows the right hand part, with only the trunk left to deal with.

Road Right Storm Road Right Normal1 Road Right Normal2 (679KB, 744KB, 580KB)

As I mentioned above, we dodged a bullet: this photo shows yet another huge oak, one which overhangs the bedroom wing. Isabel left it with a significant lean over the house. At the height of the storm, my heart was in my mouth watching it - with every big puff, the entire tree would lean (not bend, mind you - it leaned stiffly, from the ground) over a few more degrees. I kept waiting for it to go, but it never did. Note that there was no ground disturbance whatsoever on the "high" side; the ground did sink almost a foot on the "low" side, though. My hypothesis is that this was because the ground near the house had been disturbed when the house was built, and was a little loose; the force of the storm, acting on the tree as a lever, compacted it.

Leaning Oak (337KB)

Current Situation

This amusing photograph shows our current firewood pile. Note the diagonal line about a third the way along from the left; if you look closely, you will note that the wood to the right of that link is actually stacked in front of the wood to the left of it. Almost the entire bank of wood is double stacked!

And this is after we spent the entire winter heating the house with our wood-stove, using many cords of wood in the process! In addition, there is a great deal more on the ground, unsplit. Much of the wood here was collected from neighbours who were discarding it - most of our large tree trunks have been cut up into 12' lengths, and are awaiting a portable mill to turn them into planks.

Wood Pile (346KB)

To Do

Pictures of the destruction behind the house, and the tree on the garage; pictures of the destruction in the front yard, and grinding the stumps.

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