Hurricane Opal approaching Pensacola, Florida
Hurricane Opal was a major hurricane that formed in the Gulf of Mexico in September 1995. It struck the Yucatan Peninsula, then churned in the Gulf before making landfall a second time on the panhandle region of Florida, devastating the Pensacola area.
The tropical wave that would become Hurricane Opal emerged from the west coast of Africa on September 11. The wave would stay disorganized, and did not begin strengthening until it neared the Yucatan Peninsula, becoming a tropical depression on September 27 while 70 nautical miles south-southeast of Cozumel.
The depression slowly moved over the Yucatan for the next several days, eventually emerging over the Bay of Campeche, where it was officially upgraded to tropical storm strength. After languishing for days and nearly dying out from the ocean-cooling effect of its own rainfall, it rapidly intensified and began moving north across the Gulf of Mexico. It reached category-four hurricane status, with sustained winds of 130 knots, but weakened to a minimal category-three hurricane by the time of landfall at Pensacola Beach, Florida on October 3.
Opal killed 59 people: 31 from flooding in Guatemala, 19 in Mexico also from flooding, and nine in the United States. One was killed in Florida by a tornado. The other eight were killed from falling trees in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. No deaths were reported from storm surge, which experts consider unusual due to the storm's strength and the location of landfall.
Opal caused $3 billion dollars in damage, making it the fifth costliest hurricane of the 20th century. Only Hurricane Fran ($3.5 billion), Hurricane Fifi ($5 billion), Hurricane Hugo ($7 billion), and Hurricane Andrew ($26 billion) caused more damage.
Damage was heavy all the way inland to Montgomery, Alabama where winds reached 90 MPH or 145km/h. Numerous power outages were reported in metro Atlanta, where sustained tropical storm conditions overnight (including gusts to nearly 70 MPH or 110km/h) felled thousands of trees. Oaks were particularly susceptible, as their root systems were loosened by nearly two days of rain thrown against an approaching cold front by the storm.
Opal remained a hurricane for nearly 12 hours after landfall, its rapid forward speed propelling it the entire length of Alabama before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it crossed into Tennessee. Over the following 12 hours, it was not downgraded to a tropical depression until it reached Ohio, and not declared extratropical until reaching Canada, where it still managed to bring squally conditions.
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