Hurricane Opal in 1995

Hurricane Opal Satellite
Hurricane Opal Satellite Animated

Hurricane Opal in 1995 began its life as a depression off the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. It moved northwestward over land for three days before emerging into the Gulf as Tropical Storm Opal on September 30, 1995. It produced deadly floods in Mexico and Guatemala, taking dozens of lives. T.S. Opal drifted southwestward toward the Bay of Campeche before becoming a hurricane on October 2nd. In the next two days it would take on a northward motion and rapidly move toward the Florida Panhandle.

Hurricane Opal Satellite
Hurricane Opal Satellite by NOAA

On the morning of October 3, in the central Gulf, Opal had wind around 90mph. However, on the morning of October 4th, Opal had rapidly intensified to a high category 4 storm with winds of 150mph. This was only 10 hours before landfall. There were a great many panicked attempts at evacuation. By landfall, late that afternoon on Pensacola Beach, Florida, Opal’s wind was strong but it had diminished to 115mph. It was still the strongest storm to strike that part of Florida in 20 years.

In the storm summary report, the National Hurricane Center wrote… Outside water marks on buildings or debris lines on sand dunes within 200 feet of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline generally ranged from 10 to 21 feet.

Rainfall totals generally ranged from 5 to 10 inches over portions of the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Georgia.

Opal downed numerous trees, knocking out power to nearly 2 million people in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. The Robert Trent Golf Course in Opelika, Alabama lost over 7000 trees during the storm. Many people in Florida were without water for several days.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, in 1995, Opal struck a hit a high property-value part of the coastline. At the time it was the third most costly hurricane to hit the US but it no longer is in the top ten. Also….

Hurricane Opal rain map
Hurricane Opal Rainfall in 1995

– Over 100,000 people were evacuated before the storm made landfall, and about 40,000 were housed temporarily in Red Cross shelters.
– On U.S. 98, a length of approximately one-half mile between Leeside Park and the Eglin AFB Officer’s Club was destroyed and actually became an ‘inlet’ of Choctawhatchee Bay.
– Approximately 3,300 structures were destroyed, and over 18,000 were damaged.
– 3 to 5 feet of sand was deposited in some beachfront homes and businesses, and 20-foot sand dunes were laid flat by the surge.
– Florida cities/towns hardest hit included: Navarre, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Niceville, Miramar Beach, and Mexico Beach.
– Tremendous damage to infrastructure occurred–water and sewer systems damaged; roads buckled, eroded, or covered in sand; phone and electric utilities damaged.
– 400,000 customers were left without power in the Atlanta area, and well over a half-million in Georgia overall. Over 500,000 were without power in the Florida panhandle, with 95% without power at one time in Okaloosa County. Over 1 million customers in the Southeast area were still without power 2 days after the storm.

Here are more Hurricane Opal rain and wind statistics from the Mobile office of the National Weather Service.

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