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Nov. 3 — NOAA’s National Weather Service today released an internal evaluation of its operations during Hurricane Isabel. The tropical cyclone caused extensive damage and loss of life in the Mid-Atlantic states in September 2003. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

At its peak, Hurricane Isabel was a rare Category 5 storm over the open Atlantic Ocean with top winds of 165 mph. On Sept. 18, 2003, Isabel moved ashore near Drum Inlet, N.C., as a Category 2 hurricane, before weakening as it crossed eastern North Carolina and southern Virginia. Seventeen direct fatalities are attributed to Isabel in addition to 34 indirect fatalities and an estimated $3.37 billion in damages.

“Isabel caused extensive damage as a Category 2 hurricane – and it was a stark reminder of the devastation we can expect if a major hurricane, Category 3 or higher, makes landfall,” said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA's National Weather Service. “Findings and recommendations from this assessment will improve techniques, products, services, and the information provided to the American public.”

Service Assessments are a routine internal evaluation of NWS operations during major weather events and include input from government agencies, emergency managers, media and the public. They are a valuable contribution to the ongoing efforts to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of NWS products and services. “Overall, the performance of NOAA's National Weather Service during Hurricane Isabel was exemplary,” added Johnson.

Among the best practices cited in the assessment were:

  • Excellent communication between forecasters, emergency managers and the media;
  • Proactive efforts in assigning service backup responsibilities among the NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) in Virginia and West Virginia to ensure uninterrupted forecast operations;
  • Extra staffing of forecasters and electronic technicians at local WFOs in the Mid-Atlantic and the National Hurricane Center to meet forecast demands and respond to public and media inquiries;
  • WFO pre-event briefings with emergency management, customers and partners, and rapid post-storm local damage assessments.

Feedback from emergency managers and the public regarding the timelines, accuracy and reliability of NWS forecasts was overwhelmingly positive.

Several recommendations also were cited in the assessment and are currently being addressed by the NWS:

  • Raising awareness to the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning during power outages – the cause of several deaths during Isabel;
  • Improving the capability of certain NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards transmitters to ensure uninterrupted service during severe storms;
  • Studying the adequacy of tide gauge monitoring sites and the implementation of new gauges;
  • Making necessary investments to improve the Sea Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model to better predict storm surge;
  • Providing forecasts containing greater detail on the localized effects of storm surge, and information regarding evacuations.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA's National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

Media contacts:

Greg Romano or Chris Vaccaro, National Weather Service: (301) 713-0622

Editors Note:

Copies of the entire Service Assessment report are available online at To obtain a hard copy, please contact NWS Public Affairs, (301) 713-0622.

Related Web sites:

NOAA’s National Weather Service:

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  Page last modified: 11-Mar-2010 9:35 AM