Sept. 11, 2003 – Hurricane Isabel escalated into a Category 5 storm late Thursday afternoon with sustained winds reaching 160 mph, up from 150 mph at the previous National Weather Service update. Gusts had reached 195 mph, up from 185 mph at the earlier update.
It is the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
According to Weather Underground Web site, Hurricane Marilyn, which devastated the territory on Sept. 15-16, 1995, reached maximum winds of 115 mph. The records don't show the specific latitude and longitude for any of the Virgin Islands but indicate that the hurricane was packing sustained winds of 100-110 mph when it was near the territory.
Hurricane Hugo, which hit the territory hard on Sept. 17-18, 1989, had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. In St. Croix, which took the most damage, the sustained winds were recorded at 140 mph.
National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Roche said earlier Thursday that Hurricane Isabel should pass about 370 miles north-northeast of the Virgin Islands on Monday. The storm is expected to bring high seas to the area through next Wednesday, but only normal winds and rain.
As of 5 p.m., Hurricane Isabel was centered at 21.6 degrees north latitude and 55.3 degrees west longitude, putting it about 500 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands. It was moving west at 9 mph. The barometric pressure was 921 millibars or 27.19 inches.
Hurricane force winds extend out 60 miles from the center of the system, with tropical storm force winds reaching outward 185 miles.
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