Sept. 9, 2003 – Although the National Weather Service maps put Hurricane Isabel at a latitude north of the Virgin Islands on Tuesday, a trough of low pressure to the northeast of the storm could still steer it toward the territory, Brad Diehl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan, warned.
"Just continue to watch it," Diehl advised of the Category 4 hurricane.
By Tuesday night some Virgin Islanders were beginning to breathe easier as Isabel continued to move in a northwesterly direction. The 11 p.m. coordinates put the system at 20.6 degrees north latitude and 48.8 degrees west longitude, or about 875 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands.
Maximum sustained winds were near 135 mph with higher gusts. "Little overall change in strength is expected over the next 24 hours," the 11 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center stated, "although fluctuations in intensity are common in major hurricanes."
Isabel had picked up speed slightly, from 13 to 14 mph, and was still moving west-northwest, but forecasters were predicting a turn to the west within the next 24 hours. The barometric pressure remained at 948 millibars or 27.98 inches.
An e-mail circulated Tuesday night with the subject line "hurricane won't hit us" and a link to the Plymouth State Weather Center tracking map showing Isabel moving north of the territory. But a seasoned Virgin Islander sent his own reply to optimistic e-mailers, saying, "This sure is beginning to finally look like wonderful news. But as with anything when it comes to weather conditions, please keep a wary eye."
Current predictions call for the hurricane to pass 190 miles due north of the Virgin Islands on Sunday. However, Diehl said on Tuesday, predictions for that far in advance often can be off by as much as 350 miles.
Hurricane-force winds currently extend out 45 miles from the center of Isabel, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 175 miles.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression 14, the other storm on the National Weather Service map, appears to pose no threat to the territory.
"But never say never," Diehl said, recalling 1999's Hurricane Lenny that came from an unusual westerly direction.
Located with a "poorly defined center" at 15.1 degrees north latitude and 25.0 degrees west longitude as of 11 p.m., Tropical Depression 14 was near the southermost Cape Verde Islands and moving north at 12 mph with a gradual turn toward the northwest expected. Maximum sustained winds were 30 mph, with gusts to 45 mph.
With Isabel on the horizon, boaters were beginning on Tuesday to make preparations for securing their vessels to ride out a storm. For St. Thomas and Water Island residents, Benner Bay, Mandahl Pond and Flamingo Bay are safe havens. On St. Croix, safe havens include Salt River and Christiansted Harbor. The Planning and Natural Resources Department was expected to announce sometime on Tuesday when boaters would be allowed to take their vessels into those protected areas.
The V.I. National Park has opened up St. John's Hurricane Hole to boaters. According to park regulations, vessels may anchor there from 96 hours before a storm might hit. However, boaters may not tie up to mangroves or shoreline vegetation.
"They can put down their gear and put their boat there," Rafe Boulon, the park's chief of resource management, said, adding that they have 72 hours after the storm passes in which to leave.
Boaters using Hurricane Hole may leave their ground tackle in place for use during the remainder of hurricane season in case another storm threatens or hits. Those doing so must mark their spot with a buoy.
They also must write a letter to Boulon advising him of what bay they are in and what gear they have used. The letter may be faxed to 693-9500, mailed to 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John 00831, dropped off at the park offices, or e-mailed to Rafe Boulon.
The latest weather updates with current forecasts for the Virgin Islands are available 24 hours a day on the Knight Quality Stations weather information line. Call 774-4786. Those outside the territory need to use the 340 area code.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.