Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
26 Mar 2007
26 Mar 2007

Physical response of the coastal ocean to Hurricane Isabel near landfall

F. M. Bingham

Abstract. Hurricane Isabel made landfall near Drum Inlet, North Carolina on 18 September 2003. In nearby Onslow Bay an array of 5 moorings captured the response of the coastal ocean to the passage of the storm by measuring currents, surface waves, bottom pressure, temperature and salinity. Temperatures across the continental shelf decreased by 1–3°C, consistent with a surface heat flux estimate of 750 W/m2. Salinity decreased at most mooring locations. A calculation at one of the moorings estimates rainfall of 11 cm and a net addition of fresh water at the surface of 8 cm. The low-pass current field shows a shelf-wide movement of water, first to the southwest, with an abrupt reversal to the northeast along the shelf after landfall. Close analysis of this reversal shows it to be a disturbance propagating offshore at a speed somewhat less than the local shallow water wave speed. The high-pass current field at one of the moorings shows a significant increase in kinetic energy at periods between 10 min and 2 h during the approach of the storm. This high-pass flow is isotropic and has a short (<5 m) vertical decorrelation scale. It appears to be closely associated with the winds, Finally we examined the surface wave field at one of the moorings. It shows the swell energy peaking well before the wind waves. At the height of the storm, as the winds rotated rapidly in the cyclonic sense, the wind wave direction rotated as well, with a lag of 45–90°.