Forecasters said Isabel had her sights on a landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina for early Thursday morning.

That puts it in for landfall around Hyde County, N.C. Over the weekend, Isabel was at a Category 4 hurricane level. Earlier this week, the hurricane had sustained winds of 120 mph and was rated a Category 3 hurricane, but by Tuesday had been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. The diminished winds weren’t cause for relaxation.

Mac Gibbs, who’s the N.C. State Cooperative Extension agent in Hyde County, says farmers are rushing to get a disappointing corn crop in the bin that’s averaging not much more than 85 bushels per acre.

On Monday, some farmers were in the fields and had brief bouts of optimism after harvesting 55-bushel-per-acre soybeans.

Cotton producers are in a particularly tough situation regarding defoliation. “We’re in a tough dilemma with cotton because it’s ready to defoliate,” Gibbs says. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode until after the hurricane. We don’t want to put any defoliation on the crop until after the storm. We’re got a lot of cotton that’s open and we have some concern that the wind and the rain is going to string that cotton out on the ground.”

Over in Beaufort County, which is east of the anticipated landfall of Isabel, Extension agent Gaylon Ambrose reports tobacco farmers are “harvesting as hard as they can” getting in the crop. Neighbors in the area were offering empty barns to house the tobacco, Ambrose says.

“We’re just securing farm buildings and equipment in anticipation of the hurricane,” Ambrose says. “We’re mighty uneasy about this one. Batten down the hatches.”

Officials with the N.C. Division of Emergency Management said the northeast part of the state could take a pounding.

The hurricane’s high winds could push water up the Neuse, Tar and Pamlico rivers and rush back into the Pamlico Sound and hit the fragile barrier islands and inland counties with a double-whammy.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com