Hurricane Isabel, North Atlantic Ocean. The MODIS instrument onboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of Hurricane Isabel, a powerful category 4 storm in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. At the time this image was taken on September 10, 2003, at 16:40 UTC, Isabel was packing maximum sustained winds of 135 mph with higher gusts. As evidenced by the thin cirrus clouds, this image indicates that outflow on Isabel’s western side is expanding towards the west (this divergence of high-altitude air is orchestrated by a high-pressure system that forms in the upper troposphere over the eye).
Hurricane Isabel was the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Mitch, and the deadliest, costliest, and most intense hurricane in the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. The ninth named storm, fifth hurricane, and second major hurricane of the season, Isabel formed near the Cape Verde Islands from a tropical wave on September 6, in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. It moved northwestward, and within an environment of light wind shear and warm waters, it steadily strengthened to reach peak winds of 165 mph (270 km/h) on September 11. After fluctuating in intensity for four days, during which it displayed annular characteristics, Isabel gradually weakened and made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with winds of 105 mph (165 km/h) on September 18. Isabel quickly weakened over land and became extratropical over western Pennsylvania on the next day. On September 20, the extratropical remnants of Isabel were absorbed into another system over Eastern Canada.