Coastal Flood Advisory

Coastal impact, damage from Michael may be much worse than Opal in 1995 and Eloise in 1975

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
October 11, 2018, 12:32:33 PM EDT

Michael may end up causing similar or worse damage along the Florida Panhandle when compared to 1995's Opal and 1975's Eloise.

Michael made landfall along the Florida Panhandle as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, bringing extreme risk to lives and property stemming from storm surge flooding, high winds and flooding rainfall.

Static Michael Image

This image shows Category 4 Hurricane Michael over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 10, 2018. (NOAA / GOES)

Uncharted territory?

With maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, Michael became the first Category 4 hurricane in recorded history to made landfall over the Big Bend area of Florida's coast.

It joined the ranks of a select few Category 4 hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. during October. These include Hurricane 10 in 1893, Hurricane 7 in 1898, Hurricane King in 1950 and Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Hurricane Hazel in 1954 was the last Category 4 hurricane to hit the U.S. during October. However, Hazel made landfall along the Carolina coast and not in Florida.

"This stretch of coast in Florida has never been hit by a hurricane of this magnitude," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Only better building codes since the 1990s and 1970s may balance out the damage from a much stronger Hurricane Michael, when compared to other potent hurricanes that have hit the area. Even so, images have been coming in showing multiple blocks of Mexico Beach, Florida, that have been completely leveled by Michael.

People who have lived along the coast of the Florida Panhandle for a long time most likely recall several tropical storms and hurricanes.

Two of the strongest that made landfall nearby and correspondingly brought major damage include Opal from 1995 and Eloise from 1975. Both storm names were retired.

The inland tracks and corresponding inland flooding and wind damage from Opal and Eloise are vastly different when compared to Michael.

Opal 1995

Opal, once a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall as a Category 3 near Pensacola Beach, Florida, on Oct. 4, 1995, with 115-mph sustained winds.

Static Opal Track

Opal was the strongest hurricane of the 1995 season, killed more than 60 people and caused nearly $5 billion in damage.

Since Opal tracked ashore farther west than Michael, a storm surge of 15 feet occurred in Pensacola. Significant damage occurred throughout the Florida Panhandle.

Static Hurricane Opal Damage

Homeowners returned to survey the damage on Navarre Beach near Pensacola, Fla. Thursday, Oct. 5, 1995 as some homes were completely washed away by Hurricane Opal. (AP Photo/Hugh Scoggins)

A one-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 98 was destroyed and long stretches of protective dunes were lost.

Like Michael, Opal formed in the northwestern Caribbean but wandered across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, before turning northeastward over the central Gulf of Mexico.

Static Opal Gulf of Mexico

This photo shows Hurricane Opal over the central Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 4, 1995. (NOAA / GOES-9)

Opal took a track much farther west than Michael. The 1995 storm traveled across the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and across the eastern Great Lakes.

Nearly 20 inches of rain fell on parts of Alabama from Opal.

Even though Opal quickly transitioned to a non-tropical storm, it continued to produce gusty winds and caused scores of power outages over the interior Southeastern states and into the central Appalachians.

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Fallen trees in the South alone had more than 2 million people without power at one point. There was significant damage to the pecan crop in Georgia.

Tornadoes spawned by Opal caused damage as far to the north as the mid-Atlantic states and gales over the eastern Great Lakes.

Similar to Opal, Michael has the potential to cause damage and power outages well north of the point of landfall, because Michael was a stronger storm when it made landfall.

Eloise 1975

Two decades earlier, on Sept. 23, 1975, Eloise made landfall near Panama City, Florida, as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds estimated to be about 125 mph.

Static Eloise Track

Unlike Michael and Opal, Eloise originated over the south-central Atlantic from a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa.

After unleashing 33 inches of rain and tremendous flooding in part of Puerto Rico, Eloise reached the northwestern Caribbean, and like Opal, it traveled across the Yucatan Peninsula and turned northeastward over the central Gulf of Mexico.

Eloise was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of 1975. The storm was responsible for approximately 80 fatalities and caused $560 million in damage.

A maximum storm surge of 18 feet occurred and up to 15 inches of rain fell over the Florida Panhandle.

Static Eloise Photo

This photo shows Hurricane Eloise over the central Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 22, 1975. (NOAA / Satellite)

It is estimated that 8,000 people had storm-related losses and 500 businesses were completely destroyed in the Florida Panhandle alone. Gusts estimated to be as high as 155 mph, perhaps associated with tornadoes, demolished hundreds of buildings in the Florida Panhandle.

While gusty winds and isolated tornadoes caused damage to the interior South, it was the torrential rain unleashed in part by Eloise and a non-tropical storm that would lead to substantial flooding in the mid-Atlantic states.

In some cases, river levels fell just short of the record set by Agnes from a few years earlier. Up to 14 inches of rain fell in northern Maryland.

While localized flooding can occur in parts of the Northeast prior to the end of this week, it will caused by indirect effects from Michael and moreso direct effects from a non-tropical storm.

Michael is forecast to track much farther to the southeast, compared to Eloise, which traveled through the southern Appalachians, across the interior mid-Atlantic and into New England.

Florida Big Bend area is no stranger to hurricane hits

There have been other potent hurricanes that have struck the Florida Panhandle over the years.

These include Hurricane Kate on Nov. 21, 1985, Hurricane Florence on Sept. 26, 1953, an unnamed hurricane on Sept. 20, 1926, and an unnamed hurricane on Sept. 28, 1917.

For the latest local forecast and information on Michael, download the free AccuWeather app.

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