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National Weather Service, Mobile-Pensacola

 

Hurricane Opal
October 4, 1995

 

Overview

Hurricane Opal formed on September 27, 1995 as a tropical depression 70 miles
south-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. The depression slowly moved west across the
Yucatan peninsula over the next three days due to weak steering currents. The
depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Opal on the morning of September 30th
while centered near the north-central coast of the Yucatan peninsula. Opal continued
to gradually strengthen as it moved slowly into the Bay of Campeche.

On the morning of October 2nd, Opal intensified to a hurricane while centered 150
miles west of Merida, Mexico. By this time, Opal began to drift north as a large upper
level trough moved across the central United States. Opal then accelerated to the
north northeast on October 3rd and 4th and underwent a period of rapid intensification
- strengthening into a strong Category 4 hurricane early on October 4th. The minimum
central pressure of 916 mb with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph occurred when
the hurricane was centered about 290 miles south southwest of Pensacola, FL around
5am on October 4th.

As Opal approached the coast, it began to weaken as it made landfall at Pensacola
Beach, FL around 5pm on October 4th. At landfall, Opal was a Category 3 hurricane
with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Opal rapidly weakened after moving inland
and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved across southern Alabama. This system weakened further to a tropical depression as it moved into southeast Tennessee and became extratropical over the Ohio River Valley on October 5th. 

There were 9 fatalities reported in the mainland United States, including 1 local fatality in Crestview, FL due to an F2 tornado. Insured property damage was estimated to have cost $2.1 billion.

 Photo courtesy of NOAA, Office for Coastal Management, DigitalCoast

 

Rapid Intensification and Evacuations

Anybody living along the northern Gulf Coast in 1995 will tell you they heard some unsettling news when they woke up the morning of October 4th. Gulf coast residents went to bed on October 3rd knowing that Opal was a Category 2 storm with maximum winds of 100 mph. By 4am the next morning, the winds had increased to 135 mph. By 10am, Opal had maximum sustained winds of an alarming 150 mph, which is just below Category 5 intensity. Upon learning this, thousands of residents decided to evacuate at the last minute, which resulted in grid lock on many major highways, including Interstate 65. Many of these residents ended up seeking refuge in local shelters as Opal closed in on the western Florida Panhandle.

 

Hurricane Opal - NHC Advisory Archive

October 3rd 10pm

October 4th 10am
Preliminary Storm Report 1

Preliminary Storm Report 2

 


KEVX Radar Image of Hurricane Opal Making Landfall

 


This document will mainly focus on the impacts from Hurricane Opal across the northwest Florida panhandle. Below are some of the regional impacts...
Jump to - Storm Surge, Rainfall, Wind, or Additional Information sections.

 

Storm Surge

Opal’s legacy will always be the devastating storm surge that occurred across the coastal areas of the western Florida Panhandle. Storm surge of 10-15 feet was recorded from Navarre Beach east to Destin with 6-8 feet observed in the inland bays from Pensacola to Choctawhatchee Bay. Opal destroyed most of the homes that were facing the Gulf of Mexico from Navarre Beach to east of Destin. In total, nearly 300 homes were destroyed with another 1,000 homes suffering major damage. Almost 1,000 boats were damaged and it was estimated that $50 million in damage was done to recreational boats. Tremendous damage occurred to the infrastructure, with water and sewer systems damaged, roads buckled, eroded, or covered in sand, and phone and electric utilities damaged. The surge destroyed Highway 399 that runs from Pensacola Beach to Navarre. U.S. Highway 98 between Fort Walton Beach and Destin was also destroyed.

To the west of Opal’s center, storm surge ranged from 4-7 feet from Orange Beach to Dauphin Island. This resulted in some damage to structures along the immediate coast, along with the erosion of numerous sand dunes.

    

U.S. Highway 98 in Ft. Walton Beach Destroyed By Storm Surge (courtesy: State of FL)

 

Storm Surge Damage in Navarre Beach  (courtesy: State of FL)
 


Rainfall

Despite Opal’s fast forward speed, its interaction with an approaching cold front resulted in significant heavy rain across much of southwest and south central Alabama as well as the western Florida Panhandle. Here is a table of some of the highest rainfall totals recorded:

 

Location

Storm Total Rainfall

Brewton, AL

19.42”

Ellyson Field (near Pensacola)

15.45”

Evergreen, AL

8.71”

Pensacola Regional Airport

7.27”

Mobile Regional Airport

7.48”

Pensacola Naval Air Station

6.93”

 

 

Hurricane Opal Rainfall Accumulation Map (Courtesy: National Climate Data Center)
 


Wind and Pressure

Maximum sustained winds were estimated to have been 115 mph at landfall across a narrow swath at the coast between Destin and Panama City and near the extreme eastern portion of Choctawhatchee Bay. Most of the western Florida coastal areas experienced sustained Category 1 or 2 winds. Due to Opal’s fast forward speed, strong damaging winds impacted areas along and east of Interstate 65 in southern Alabama, blowing down numerous trees and power lines and causing structural damage to homes. More than 125 homes were destroyed with 150 homes suffering major damage across inland southwest and south central Alabama. Nearly $25 million in tree damage occurred in the Conecuh National Forest. 

Here is a list of the maximum sustained winds and peak wind gusts recorded during the storm:

 

Location

Maximum Sustained Wind (mph)

Peak Gust (mph)

Hurlburt Field

84

144

Eglin AFB

81

115

Pensacola Regional Airport

 

79

Pensacola Naval Air Station

60

77

Dauphin Island

61

77

Downtown Mobile

52

66

Evergreen, AL 35 49

 

Data from reconnaissance aircraft show that Opal’s minimum central pressure at landfall was 942mb. Here is a list of minimum pressure reports from various locations near the center of the hurricane:

 

Location

Minimum Central Pressure (mb)

Pensacola I-10 & East Bay

948.2

Pensacola Naval Air Station

955.0

Hurlburt Field

960.3

Mobile Regional Airport

978.5

 


More Information (Technical Papers and Assessments)


NOAA Coastal Services Interactive Map

FEMA Mitigation Assessment Team Report

NCDC Technical Report - Opal
US ACE & FEMA Hurricane Opal Assessment

NHC Tropical Cyclone Report - Hurricane Opal
NHC Preliminary Report

NWS Opal Local Write-Ups and Webpages:
     NWS Birmingham

 

 


Acknowledgements: Page created by Morgan Barry (Forecaster), Jason Beaman (WCM) and Don Shepherd (senior forecaster, Tropical Focal Point).

LAST UPDATED: September 2016