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Document Type

Book Chapter


Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



K.G. Sellner

Book Title

Hurricane Isabel in Perspective : Proceedings of a conference


Chesapeake Research Consortium, Inc.


Edgewater, Maryland


After making landfall on the North Carolina coast on the morning of 18 September 2003, Category 2 Hurricane Isabel tracked northward parallel to and slightly west of the Chesapeake Bay. At Gloucester Point, near the mouth of the York River estuary, strong onshore winds with speeds in excess of 20 m⋅s-1 persisted for over 12 hours and peak winds reached over 40 m⋅s-1, causing a sustained up-estuary wind stress. Storm surge exceeded 2 m throughout most of the lower Chesapeake Bay. A 600 kHz acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP), deployed at a depth of 8.5 m off Gloucester Point, provided high-quality data on waves, storm surge, currents, and acoustic backscatter throughout the water column before, during, and after the storm. Pressure and salinity sensors at three additional sites further up the estuary provided information on water surface slope and saltwater excursion up the estuary. A first-order estimate of three terms of the along-channel momentum equation (barotropic pressure gradient, acceleration, and friction) showed that the pressure gradient appeared to be balanced by the wind stress and the acceleration during the storm. The storm’s path and slow speed were the primary causes of the extremely high storm surge relative to past storms in the area.


Hurricane Isabel, Virginia, York River, Yorktown

Physical Response of the York River Estuary to Hurricane Isabel