A History of Hurricanes in the Western Florida Panhandle 1559-1999
The information below comes from a report compiled by Richard G. Henning, Staff Meteorologist, 46th Weather Squadron, Eglin AFB, FL
|Plot of the 52 hurricanes and tropical storms that have passed within 60 miles of Eglin AFB since 1886. 27 were hurricanes. Of these, 10 were Category 1 storms (winds 74-95 MPH), 5 were Category 2 (96-110 MPH), 6 were Category 3 (111-130 MPH), 6 were Category 4 (131-155 MPH). Since 1886, no Category 5 (156 MPH or more) hurricanes have passed within 60 miles of the base.|
This summary of hurricanes and tropical storms that have impacted the Panhandle focuses mainly on the area near Eglin AFB (coastal Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton Counties). It includes some storms for which the eye did not actually make landfall in this immediate area, but the local effects were significant. It also includes many storms which had a greater impact on Pensacola or the Panama City/Big Bend region than on the immediate Ft. Walton Beach area. It uses tracks and historical records compiled by Chris Landsea and others at NOAA maintained at the Unisys Hurricane Archive at Purdue University, as well as records maintained at Eglin AFB, and the National Hurricane Center. Finally, it also was derived from accounts listed in Hurricane Effects: Choctawhatchee Bay Area, produced in 1972 by Brent Walker, Staff Meteorologist, ADTC (now the Air Armament Center) Eglin AFB, Florida Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, by John M. Williams, and Iver W. Duedall, 1997, published by the University Press of Florida, and Hurricanes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 1717 to Present, by Charles L. Sullivan, 1987, published by Gulf Publishing Co. Special thanks also to Mr. Edward Keppel, Staff Meteorologist, 46th Weather Squadron and to Gary Padgett, hurricane historian "extraordinaire" for their inputs and review.
Hurricanes prior to 1886:
The archive of detailed historical data at Purdue University extends back to 1886. Prior to this, accounts are sketchy and far from complete. It appears the first major hurricane event in the western Panhandle with significant historical documentation occurred in 1559. The history of European settlement in this area was tied intimately to, and largely dependent on, how the Spanish, French, British, and finally, the Americans, dealt with these disasters of nature.
The Great Tempest, Sept 1559:
This storm destroyed 7 of the 13 ships anchored in what is now called Pensacola Bay, the fleet of Spaniard Don tristan de Luna y Arreland. The settlement at what is now known as Fort Barrancas was leveled. It was such a monumental disaster that Spain did not attempt to re-establish a colony in this area for 164 years, and there is no written record of tropical cyclone activity until the early 18th century:
1711 New Orleans to Pensacola:
A powerful storm struck the fledgling colonies at Vieux Biloxi, (the first French foothold in the Louisiana territory established in 1699 at what is now Ocean Springs, MS), New Orleans, and Mobile. It caused great damage there, as well as to the French colony in Pensacola.
1736 The second Spanish Pensacola colony:
In 1723, Pensacola was destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession and reverted again from French to Spanish control. The Spanish rebuilt the colony on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, to make it easier to defend, but this decision left it highly vulnerable to hurricanes. Thirteen years later, the colony was completely wiped out by a storm surge that drowned virtually all the inhabitants. Spain finally rebuilt on higher ground north of what is now the Naval Air Station.
1766 October 22-23 Pensacola to Apalachee Bay:
A huge storm destroyed 6 ships in Pensacola Bay and 5 galleons in the Bay of St. Bernard. A 12 foot storm surge inundated St Marks.
1772 August 31 Pascagoula to Pensacola:
Wind damage occurred as much as 30 miles from the beaches, all but one wharf in Pensacola was destroyed. Tidal surge in Mobile and Pascagoula sent vessels and debris up the Pascagoula River 30 miles up river from the mouth.
1778 October 7 Pensacola:
Most of the waterfront was destroyed, all of the ships in the harbor, except one British sloop-of-war, were destroyed.
1779 August 17-18 Apalachicola and the eastern The Gulf of Mexico:
The Spanish War Fleet, with 64 ships and 4000 men, under the command of Admiral Solano, set sail from Havana to attack the British base at Pensacola in an attempt to drive England out of the Gulf Coast. An intense hurricane crossed the Gulf directly into their path, destroying many of the ships and dispersing the surviving fleet from Mobile to the Bay of Campeche. The attack was cancelled.
1819 July 27-28 Mississippi to Florida:
A small but intense storm destroyed Bay St Louis and washed alligators and human bodies out to sea. These bodies later began re-appearing over a wide stretch of beaches from Mobile to the Florida Panhandle.
1821 September 15-17 Louisiana to Piney Point, FL:
A very large storm brought storm surge flooding from Mobile to what is now Wakulla and Taylor Counties, FL. 11 of the 13 vessels in the harbor at Pensacola Bay were lost.
1837 August St Marks:
A large segment of St George Island was breached by extreme surge/wave action. The "New Inlet" remained open until sediments closed it back up in 1900.
1837 "Racer's Hurricane":
Formed in the Caribbean and moved from there, across the Yucatan, and just prior to landfall near the Rio Grande, it turned north, then northeast, then east, and slammed into Perdido Key.
1842 through 1844 St Joseph (now Port St Joe), three major hurricanes in three years:
The first storm destroyed much of the town as well as the sand dunes on the barrier island (the peninsula north of Cape San Blas), which had offered protection from the Gulf. This storm moved eastward and caused a 20 foot surge at Cedar Key, one of the largest ever seen in the state of Florida on the mainland. A yellow fever outbreak ensued which nearly wiped out the survivors. Then in the next two years, what had been rebuilt was destroyed when 2 more hurricanes produced surges that took advantage of the breached barrier island and flooded the community again.
1843 September Port Leon:
This town, 30 miles south of Tallahassee, was flooded by over 10 feet of water and abandoned.
1851 August St Marks:
All of the coast south of Tallahassee was flooded with up to a 12 foot storm surge. The fort at St Marks was completely destroyed as were three lighthouses nearby in Apalachicola. Great damage extended well inland from extreme winds at Tallahassee.
1852 August 24-25 Mobile to Pensacola:
A severe hurricane washed away three-fourths of the wharves in Pensacola Harbor.
1852 October Apalachicola:
Another hurricane, later that same year, washed away railroad tracks and flooded much of what is now Wakulla, Franklin, and Gulf Counties. St Marks and Newport were underwater for several days.
1856 August Cape San Blas to Panama City and inland areas:
After landfall, this storm stalled over the Panhandle for six days and winds destroyed most of Marianna and Milton. It then moved north into Georgia and the Carolinas causing extensive damage as far north as Portsmouth, VA. A ten-foot surge into St. Andrew's Bay opened what is now West Pass and created Hurricane Island.
Hurricanes of 1886 to the present:
Click on the year/name or description of the storm (including the point where the eye made landfall) for a track of its path and click on the history link for a table which details the hourly position and intensity of the storm:
1887 the eastern end of Choctawhatchee Bay:
High winds/ flooding from Walton County to Panama City
1889 Gulf Shores:
A Category 2 hurricane hits this Alabama barrier island before it was populated
1893 SE Louisiana:
1500 deaths along the Miss/La coasts, extensive damage in Pensacola
1894 south of Tallahassee:
Storm headed for Gulfport, MS then recurved northward to Florida coast, large storm surge generated just prior to recurvature flooded the Panhandle coast
1898 St George Island:
A Category 1 hurricane moved across the NE Gulf from Tampa to Franklin County
1899 near Carrabelle:
40 cargo ships and sailing vessels destroyed
1901 Boothville, LA:
An Atlantic tropical storm crossed the FL peninsula moving just south of Lake Okeechobee then into the Gulf. After rapidly intensifying into a hurricane and heading westward it turned sharply northward and made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River, generating a storm surge that washed out railroads and sunk several ships in the Pensacola Harbor.
1901 Perdido Key:
Another tropical storm later that same season comes ashore with heavy rain to its east across the Panhandle
1903 near Apalachicola:
A Bahamas hurricane crosses south Florida and reforms in the Gulf
1906 Bay County:
An early season (June) tropical storm comes ashore at Panama City
1906 just west of Mobile, AL:
This Category 4 hurricane was the most destructive storm to strike the Pensacola area in 170 years (since the great 1736 hurricane). Sustained winds reached 140 MPH with a 14-foot storm surge on Santa Rosa Island. Thirty-eight railroad cars loaded with coal were washed away, the entire coastal waterfront area from Mobile to Pensacola was destroyed, 134 residents died.
1907 Panama City:
A tropical storm moves into Bay County from the southwest
1909 south of New Orleans:
A very large Category 4 hurricane moved from the western tip of Cuba to Louisiana, and even though the center never got any closer than 200 miles from the Panhandle, hurricane conditions and a storm surge flooded Escambia Bay.
A small diameter hurricane formed in the Gulf just NW of the FL Keys and quickly moved northwest into the extreme western Panhandle
This storm formed in the western Caribbean and moved across the western tip of Cuba, then northward to Gulf County, 21 deaths
1916 July Gulfport, MS:
A Category 3 storm moved from deep in the tropics (just north of Panama) to Mississippi then stalled for five days on the coast. Hurricane force (104MPH) winds caused over $1 million dollars (1916 dollars) damage to the newly established Naval Air Station in Pensacola.
1916 October Pensacola:
With a track very similar to another October storm (Opal, 79 years later), this Category 3 storm lashed the NAS again with 114 MPH winds (prior to the anemometer blowing away)
For the third time in 14 months, the Pensacola Naval Air Station is hit by a Category 3 hurricane, extensive damage inland with 5 deaths in Crestview
An early July tropical storm moves into the panhandle from the SE Gulf of Mexico
1924 Port St Joe:
Significant damage from this Category 1 storm
1926 Miami then Mobile:
This was a catastrophic event for both south Florida and the Panhandle with 243 deaths statewide, and damage that exceeded $1.5 billion in today's dollars. This was a Category 4 hurricane when it destroyed much of Miami, then a Cat 3 when it entered the Gulf of Mexico although Cat 4 winds as high as 152 MPH were recorded in Pensacola as well. Tides were up to 14 feet above normal in Baghdad along East bay. At the NAS, 30 seaplanes were destroyed along with several hangars. It created the highest tides ever measured at Destin, 10-12 feet above Mean Sea Level.
1929 Panama City:
This storm crossed into the Gulf of Mexico after brushing the southern tip of Florida. It had been a Category 4 hurricane in the Bahamas with 140MPH winds and a pressure of 936mb measured on Andros Island, but it weakened considerably by the time it made landfall in the Panhandle.
Another Atlantic storm that brushed south Florida then entered the Gulf, considerable crop loss and damage over the NW Florida coastline all the way east to Apalachicola
1936 Fort Walton Beach:
This was the first direct hit for the new population center developing in Okaloosa County. Although records list it as a Category 1 storm, it made landfall with a pressure of 973mb (a pressure which would support Cat 2-3) and winds over 100 MPH were observed inland at Niceville, with unofficial reports of 125 MPH winds along the coast. Tides of 5 feet above normal were measured along the inland shore of Choctawhatchee Bay with some roofs covered by water along the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound west of Mary Esther. Tides were estimated at Destin 7-8 feet above MSL, with storm surge flooding along the coast to Panama City. 500 residents were evacuated from low lying areas, and there were four deaths.
This storm crossed the northern half of the Florida peninsula and briefly emerged in the NE Gulf of Mexico, just long enough to intensify into a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore SW of Tallahassee, it then continued to the WNW and moved over the Ft Walton Beach area with heavy rain
1947 South Florida then New Orleans:
A category 5 hurricane in the Bahamas, this storm struck what was then a sparsely populated coastline north of Miami near Pompano Beach, the 155 MPH winds measured there and 21.6 foot storm surge rank it among the most powerful ever to hit south Florida, it weakened then entered the Gulf and curved northwestward, passing just south of the Panhandle before its second landfall in Louisiana. Five docks were washed out in Ft Walton Beach with water coming over Highway 98. A power cable, which ran under East Pass to Destin was severed and the island was without electricity for five days. Winds at Eglin AFB reached 74 MPH.
1948 Okaloosa County:
A weak tropical storm moved ashore into Choctawhatchee Bay with little effect on the area
1950 Hurricane BAKER, Perdido Key:
Hurricanes were first named in 1950, the first with a name to affect the area was Baker. After reaching Category 3 intensity in the Leeward Islands it began a long journey winding through the Caribbean and then turned north into the Gulf of Mexico just above the Yucatan Peninsula. A Cat 2 in the Gulf, it prompted a full evacuation of all aircraft from Naval Air Station Pensacola and from Eglin AFB, totaling over 400 planes from both services. A 4 foot storm surge tide at Cinco Bayou damaged piers, while a higher surge at Destin washed nearly all the docks and gulf facing property out to sea. A large stretch of Highway 98 was washed out as well. Baker dumped 7.52 inches of rain on Eglin AFB.
1953 Tropical Storm ALICE just east of Panama City:
A strong tropical storm (70MPH winds) at landfall, this early season system formed deep in the western Caribbean and as it moved northward, it completed two full cyclonic loops of its track (and began a third loop before resuming its northward motion from offshore Havana to landfall in Bay County).
1953 Hurricane FLORENCE Sandestin:
Florence was a Category 3 storm in the Gulf, which weakened some just prior to landfall 8 miles east of Destin. Winds at Eglin AFB reached 84 MPH (the roof of the base gymnasium housing 200 shelter occupants was partially torn off). 6.94 inches of rain fell in a 24 hour period prior to landfall (with over 9 inches of rainfall during the three day event). The tidal surge in Choctawhatchee Bay reached 4.5 feet and some homes were cut off by rising waters at Garnier's Beach. There was considerable roof damage inland in Crestview.
1956 Hurricane FLOSSY Fort Walton Beach:
While records show Flossy was a Category 1 storm, it may have been intensifying just prior to landfall with a pressure of 980mb and winds up to 98 MPH. Originally reborn from a Pacific storm that crossed the isthmus of Central America and reformed in the Caribbean, Flossy created a 5 foot storm surge in Choctawhatchee Bay (which tied the record held by the 1936 storm until Eloise broke it in 1975). Shalimar was flooded by this surge along with 5.48 inches of rain which fell at Eglin on September 24th as Flossy approached from the southwest.
1957 Tropical Storm DEBBIE Okaloosa County:
This weak system approached from the southwest and came ashore at Fort Walton Beach with 40 MPH winds, producing 1.82 inches of rain at Eglin AFB on September 9th and no damage.
1957 Tropical Storm ESTHER Louisiana:
The center of Esther came ashore well west of the area, however, due to a great deal of atmospheric shear, most of the squalls were displaced well east of the center and Pensacola Airport measured the strongest winds of any station with sustained winds of 52 MPH and gusts to 75 MPH.
1959 Tropical Storm IRENE Pensacola:
Irene formed in the SW Gulf in early October and moved NNE along a path that Opal would follow 36 years later, coming ashore with winds near 50 knots.
1964 Hurricane HILDA Louisiana:
Hilda was a major Gulf of Mexico hurricane (941mb, 150 MPH winds, Category 4) which after impacting the bayou country south of New Orleans, turned sharply east and paralleled the coastline of Mississippi, Alabama, and NW Florida. No significant damage occurred in this area.
1965 Tropical Storm ONE Walton County:
This system was designated as TS1 after the fact by the National Hurricane Center when forecasters there re-examined the satellite images that were not available yet in real time on a reliable basis. It was an early season depression (which originally formed in the Pacific Ocean and crossed Central America) that briefly attained the appearance and winds of a tropical storm, dumping 4.80 inches of rain on Eglin AFB on 17 June, but causing no damage.
1965 Hurricane BETSY southern Louisiana:
The most destructive hurricane to ever strike Louisiana, this was a Category 5 hurricane just off the Mississippi River Delta with 165+ MPH winds and a central pressure of 941mb (it was the first major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico to be continuously measured by reconnaissance aircraft). It produced heavy rains and high tides east of the center from New Orleans to Panama City.
1966 Hurricane ALMA Turkey Point:
Until Allison in 1995, this was the earliest June hurricane to ever strike Florida. At one point, it was a Category 3 storm with 125 MPH winds as it brushed the Dry Tortugas on its way north from its birthplace off the coast of Nicaragua. A Cat 1 at landfall south of Tallahassee.
1969 Hurricane CAMILLE Mississippi:
The most intense hurricane to ever make landfall on the mainland U.S., Camille formed in the NW corner of the Caribbean from an African easterly wave and rapidly developed into a 200 MPH hurricane as it crossed the western tip of Cuba and entered the SE Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the advent of more sophisticated computer models, like those the NHC uses today, hurricane forecasters had difficulty forecasting the track of storms. For two days, as Camille moved NW toward Gulfport, MS, forecasters in Miami continued to predict the storm would begin to curve toward the Florida coast, with landfall expected between Pensacola and Panama City, but the storm never curved and the eye slammed into the coast near Bay St Louis. The track did put NW Florida in the right front quadrant of the circulation as it passed to our south, generating huge swells and waves which caused extensive beach erosion from Destin westward. However, this was insignificant when compared to the immense damage and loss of life which occurred in Mississippi and the Delta region of Louisiana, where the pressure dropped to 909 mb at landfall and the storm surge exceeded 24 feet at Pass Christian, MS. Damage totaled $1.4 billion (1969 dollars, approximately $6.1 billion in today's dollars) with 256 deaths.
1972 Hurricane AGNES Port St Joe:
Agnes will not be remembered for its impact on the Florida coast, which was minimal, but rather for the extensive flooding which it caused as it moved into the northern Appalachians and dumped excessive rainfall resulting in 122 deaths and $2.1 billion ($7.5 billion today) damage.
1975 Tropical Depression #3 Florida Panhandle:
During late July, a weak depression formed in the Gulf and stalled for several days off the coast, dumping excessive rainfall in the Panhandle. Eglin AFB measured 11.66 inches of rain from 29-30 July.
1975 Hurricane ELOISE Grayton Beach/Seagrove Beach:
With landfall as a deepening Category 3 hurricane (the eye pressure 955mb (28.20 inches of mercury) had fallen 31 millibars in the 24 hours prior to landfall), Eloise is the most intense storm to have ever made a near-direct hit on Eglin AFB and the nearby communities. Winds of 100 knots (115 MPH) were measured at Eglin AFB before a window exploded at the observation station and the recording instrument failed (much to the distress of the young observer who braved the remainder of the storm by himself huddled in the bathroom as glass and debris swirled around him). Sustained winds reached 125 MPH with gusts to 156 MPH at locations along the beach. The two-day rainfall at Eglin AFB measured 13.53 inches (with 14.90 inches for a storm total), making this the wettest period in the 50 years of records at the base until Georges broke this record in 1998. With the right hemisphere of the storm coming ashore to the east of East Pass (which connects Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf), the bay rose briefly as the storm approached, to levels higher than during the 1936 storm or Flossy, but then fell quickly as the center passed east of Destin (pulling water out of the bay). A significant storm surge did occur eastward, along coastal Walton, Bay and Gulf Counties, where it reached 12-16 feet in some places. The storm's rapid forward speed (it was picked up by the circulation in advance of a strong cold front moving in from the west, and was moving 20+ knots northward at landfall) contributed to the height of the storm surge. A hurricane reconnaissance aircraft reported seeing the Highway 331 Bridge below in a clearing through the clouds as the plane fixed the eye (elliptically shaped, 20 to 10 miles across) coming ashore in eastern Walton County. Damage totaled $1.3 billion in today's dollars (making it among the 20 costliest storms in U.S. history) with 21 deaths (44 died in Puerto Rico earlier as it moved through the Caribbean).
1979 Hurricane FREDERIC just west of Dauphin Island:
Frederic was another storm, which was in the process of rapidly intensifying prior to landfall of the eye along the Miss/Ala border SW of Mobile. It strengthened from a Cat 1 to a Cat 4 in 30 hours. During its early history in the Atlantic and Caribbean, its development was inhibited by outflow from David, a major hurricane several hundred miles out ahead of Frederic. As it followed in David's wake, where ocean waters had been cooled, it did not get an opportunity to develop until David moved up the east coast of Florida and Frederic continued westward, emerging into the southeast Gulf of Mexico near the western tip of Cuba. From there, the storm followed a path very similar to Camille, except shifted about 75 miles farther to the east than the 1969 storm. It was about 70 miles south of Eglin AFB at its closest approach and generated a very large and destructive storm surge along the beaches of Perdido Key, just west of Pensacola. Hardest hit was Dauphin Island, which received a 15 foot storm surge and 145 MPH winds, wiping out virtually every beach condominium on the island and washing out the eight mile causeway connecting it to the mainland. From Gulf Shores and Bayou La Batre ,AL to Ocean Springs, MS, all waterfront property was either destroyed or severely damaged, especially in Pascagoula, MS, where the eye passed overhead and hundreds of millions of dollars damage was done to the huge Ingalls Shipyard complex where U.S. Navy ships are constructed. The total damage approached $3 billion (1979 dollars) , making Frederic the 5th most destructive storm in U.S. history.
1985 Hurricane ELENA Ocean Springs, MS:
Elena will always be remembered as the most unpredictable and fickle of Gulf of Mexico hurricanes to ever threaten such a large coastal population. Its track originally had the storm heading NW toward Mississippi, however forecasters anticipated that a trough approaching from the west would begin to curve Elena northward and hurricane watches were posted for NW Florida. When she strengthened to a major (Category 3) hurricane and watches were upgraded to warnings, thousands of coastal residents, and holiday tourists (it was Labor Day weekend) were evacuated from Gulf Shores to Panama City. After reaching a point less than 100 miles south of Pensacola, Elena veered eastward and warnings were extended to the Tampa area. When the eye passed well east of Apalachicola, still moving away, warnings were dropped for the Emerald Coast and thousands returned to the beaches to salvage what they could from the weekend. With the roads leading onto the barrier islands crowded with cars returning to the coast, Elena suddenly looped back and turned 180 degrees back toward NW Florida. The trough, with winds from the west in the upper atmosphere, had pushed Elena almost to landfall near Tampa (creating 7-9 ft storm surge at Cedar Key). When this trough lifted out, unexpectedly, and a ridge filled in behind it with upper level easterly winds, these winds carried Elena back to the west. Warnings were re-issued and evacuation orders for coastal areas of Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa Counties created mass confusion and traffic congestion as emergency management and law enforcement officials rushed to get people out of areas that they had, only hours earlier, been given the all-clear. As it turned out, Elena's second approach to NW Florida did not end in landfall either, as it deflected slightly to the left and the eye and eyewall passed about 30 miles offshore south of Eglin AFB and continued WNW into Mississippi, where it originally had been headed three days earlier. Damage to Florida was primarily along the immediate shoreline where two close approaches of the storm had generated large swells and 20 foot waves caused significant beach erosion, as well as washing some piers and waterfront property into the sea. Total damage from Mississippi to Venice Beach, Florida exceeded $1.2 billion dollars, but the economic impact of what was then, the largest coastal evacuation in history (one million people) over a holiday weekend, has been difficult to estimate and the subject of much controversy.
1985 Hurricane JUAN Pensacola:
Part of a hyperactive 1985 Gulf of Mexico season which saw a total of 4 storms threaten the Panhandle (it is not listed, but Danny also threatened the area in July as well before striking Louisiana southwest of New Orleans). Juan was a minimal (Category 1) hurricane which stalled and looped south of the Louisiana bayou country. This allowed the storm to dump excessive rainfall which flooded much of southern Louisiana resulting in over $1.5 billion in damage (at the time, it made this the 8th costliest hurricane in U.S. history (14th costliest in today's dollars). Juan then weakened to a tropical storm and merged with a frontal system as it came ashore near Pensacola.
1985 Hurricane KATE Mexico Beach:
This was the strongest late-season hurricane to ever threaten the U.S., as it did not form until late November. After forming in the tropical Atlantic, Kate moved through the Bahamas, and prompted hurricane warnings for the Miami area for the first time in 19 years (the first since Inez in 1966). It passed just south of Key West and then curved NW into the center of the Gulf, about 200 miles south of Fort Walton Beach, where it intensified to Category 3 status. While water temperatures in the middle Gulf were still warm, especially for late November, as the system moved north toward the coast, it encountered much cooler water and began to weaken. In addition, a strong cold front had moved into the Panhandle and cold, dry air began to enter the storm's circulation. By landfall, it had some non-tropical characteristics, and had lost much of its intensity, but still caused wind damage well inland around Tallahassee and coastal flooding in the Big Bend region. Damage totaled about $300 million.
1994 Tropical Storm ALBERTO Destin:
Alberto came ashore during the Fourth of July Weekend, and other than spoiling plans for outdoor festivities, it had little impact on Okaloosa and Walton Counties. However, after moving north into west-central Georgia it stalled for several days and dumped extremely heavy rain (up to 27.61 inches) around Albany, GA.
The resulting floods were catastrophic to south Georgia and northern Florida with the Chipola, Apalachicola, Withlacoochee, Ochlockonee, and Flint rivers all reaching record flood stages. Communities such as Blountstown, Chatahoochee and Marianna, were overwhelmed with over 20 feet of water covering homes above their roofs. Thirteen NW Florida counties were declared federal disaster areas, as were many more in Georgia and Alabama. There were 31 deaths, mostly in southern Georgia where flash flooding in and near Albany claimed many victims while they slept, making Alberto the most deadly tropical storm (non-hurricane) this century.
1994 Tropical Storm BERYL Cape San Blas:
A weak tropical storm which formed just offshore near Apalachicola, Beryl stalled near the beach and caused coastal flooding on St George Island and adjacent Big Bend communities on the mainland.
1995 Hurricane ALLISON St Marks:
Allison replaced Alma (1966) as the earliest June hurricane to strike Florida. Forming near the Nicaraguan coast, she moved northward into the middle Gulf directly toward Eglin AFB, then after passing within 100 miles to our south, veered sharply northeastward and impacted Wakulla County south of Tallahassee with minimal damage.
1995 Hurricane ERIN Pensacola Beach:
Erin formed in the Atlantic and moved through the Bahamas (where it sank a 234 foot cruise ship) en route to its first landfall on the east coast of Florida near Vero Beach. It weakened to a tropical storm as it crossed the peninsula and entered the Gulf of Mexico north of Tampa. It then quickly re-intensified and began heading for what was forecast to be landfall near Biloxi, MS. Instead, Erin turned suddenly, just south of Cape San Blas, from a WNW to a NW course and the eye came ashore at Pensacola Beach (2.89 inches of rain fell at Eglin AFB from Erin). While Purdue records show it was a Category 1 hurricane (and the last NHC advisory prior to landfall still listed 95 MPH winds, the upper limit of Cat 1), Erin was strengthening at landfall (the pressure in the eye fell 11 mb in the predawn hours just off the coast) and there is considerable evidence that it may have reached Category 2 intensity based on the damage done to Pensacola Beach by 100+ MPH winds (winds as high as 90 MPH were reported as far inland as Jackson, MS). Based on this, the Hurricane Center now lists Erin as a Cat 2 on its historical records. Damage exceeded $700 million, placing Erin in the top 15 most costly storms.
1995 Hurricane OPAL Navarre Beach:
Opal formed in the Bay of Campeche and drifted without much motion for two days before being picked up on October 3rd by a trough over the southcentral U.S. It accelerated rapidly toward the northeast in the direction of Eglin AFB and moved over a warm eddy of 85 deg F water. This helped to trigger an explosive episode of deepening during the evening of the 3rd through the early morning hours of October 4th which saw Opal's eye pressure drop from 965 to 916 mb in less than 18 hours. Winds measured by reconnaissance aircraft peaked as high as 152 knots, and the storm was upgraded from Category 1 to 4. This deepening event, which occurred while many coastal residents were asleep caused a near-panic as they awoke to find a much more dangerous storm rapidly approaching the area. Highways 87 and 85 leading north out of Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties became hopelessly clogged. Some residents reported that when they evacuated to Tallahassee, a trip that normally takes 2-3 hours, the drive lasted 10-12 hours. Many abandoned their vehicles along Interstate 10 and evacuation routes feeding northbound, and sought shelter from the increasing wind and rain wherever they could find it. Fortunately, Opal began to weaken just prior to landfall as the intense inner eyewall that had been formed during the night before, dissipated over colder waters near the coast, leaving a large, much weaker and poorly defined eyewall. A large mass of dry air also became entrained into the circulation from the west, and finally, shear ahead of an approaching cold front began to disturb the structure of Opal as well. This all resulted in the center pressure filling 26 millibars (942mb at landfall) and maximum winds decreasing to the lower end of the Category 3 range. However, the rapid intensification and acceleration of Opal had kicked up a tremendous storm surge which did not have time to weaken significantly before coming ashore. As a result, while there was very little wind damage away from the immediate shoreline, there was extensive damage within 100 yards of the beach and on barrier islands from surge and wave action. The highest sustained wind at Eglin AFB was 70 knots with a 100 knot gust (115 MPH). The 125 knot (144 MPH) wind gust reported at Hurlburt Field is now widely dismissed as being due to instrument error. Exactly 9.00 inches of rain fell on Eglin AFB during Opal's passage. The storm surge was measured as high as 14 feet between Destin and Panama City. State Highway 399 along the Gulf from Pensacola Beach to Navarre Beach was completely washed out, as were some sections of Highway 98, and other coastal roads in Walton and Bay Counties. Damage totaled $3 billion dollars making Opal the fourth most expensive storm in U.S. history.
1997 Hurricane DANNY Mobile Bay:
Danny formed from a mass of thunderstorms that drifted into the northern Gulf of Mexico off the continental U.S. These thunderstorms spent several days organizing over very warm water (90 degrees F) south of the Mississippi River Delta of Louisiana. A depression formed which quickly intensified into a hurricane that crossed the Delta near Grand Isle, LA. Danny then re-emerged over the open Gulf water of the Chandeleur Sound south of Biloxi. It continued northeastward and entered Mobile Bay where it stalled for 24 hours resulting in some of the heaviest rainfall totals ever seen associated with a tropical cyclone in this country. At Dauphin Island, 36.71 inches of rain were measured from Danny, 25.98 inches of which fell in a seven hour span on 19 July. Flooding rains occurred from coastal Mississippi to NW Florida, but only 2.55 inches fell as far east as Eglin AFB. The remains of Danny moved across the southeastern U.S. and the southern Appalachians and re-emerged into the Atlantic where it became a tropical storm again off the North Carolina coast. Flooding and damage was reported as far north as Virginia. The NHC estimated total damage from the storm at about $100 million.
1998 Hurricane EARL Panama City:
Earl formed in the Bay of Campeche amidst a broad monsoon trough that covered much of the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico from the remains of an African wave. It moved northward and began to interact with a strong 500 mb trough over the northern Gulf. This interaction strengthened the system but it also began to display non-tropical, mid-latitude features (all of the convection and strong winds were well to the east and southeast of the center, it never formed an eye, and it maintained the shape of a winter storm on satellite imagery). It briefly reached Category 2 status as it moved south of Eglin AFB (where the strongest wind recorded was only a 44 knot gust) and came ashore in Bay County. However, nearly all the hurricane force winds remained offshore in feeder bands far from the center in the southeastern quadrant of Earl in the Gulf of Mexico. Rainfall at Eglin AFB totaled 6.31 inches over a 36 hour interval with no significant damage reported anywhere in the area.
1998 Hurricane Georges Ocean Springs, MS:
Georges formed in the tropical Atlantic from a vigorous African wave and quickly deepened to near-Category Five status as dropsondes released into the eyewall by reconnaissance aircraft measured winds near the surface as high as 147 knots, and up to 152 knots at 10,000 feet (with an eye SLP of 937mb) east of the Lesser Antilles. Georges weakened prior to moving across these islands and striking Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba. However, very heavy rainfall resulted in flash flooding that killed over 600 people and washed many villages away (damage in the Caribbean exceeded 3 billion dollars). The storm fluctuated in intensity over this two-day journey across the islands, as it weakened moving across mountainous terrain, only to re-intensify each time it emerged back over the warm ocean waters. It moved into the Gulf of Mexico near Key West and curved northward reaching the Mississippi coast as a Category Two storm. While sustained winds never reached hurricane force in NW Florida (the strongest wind clocked at Eglin AFB was an isolated gust to 79 knots in a feeder band), there were several reports of tornadoes being spawned by Georges in and around the Eglin reservation. It was also responsible for the heaviest rainfall event on record at the base with a total of 19.16 inches falling over a 72 hour period including 9.60 inches on the 28th of September, the most ever measured at Eglin on a single day. Flooding was limited in Okaloosa County, but extensive in other locations in the Panhandle with $340 million in damage to Florida, and over $3 billion total for the Gulf states. The worst damage occurred in coastal Mississippi where much of Jackson County was cut off by high water and was without electricity and telephone service for several days.
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