Remembering Hurricane Frederic

| September 12, 2010 @ 2:12 am | 10 Replies

On the morning of Wednesday, September 12, 1979, preparations were underway along the Central Gulf Coast for extremely dangerous Hurricane Frederic.  At 5 a.m. CDT, the hurricane was 250 miles southeast of New Orleans with top winds of 130mph.  Frederic was approaching category four status.  The central pressure as measured by Air Force reconnaissance was 948 millibars. Intensification had leveled off, but some slight strengthening was expected during the day.  In fact, a 943 millibars central pressure measurement would be recorded at 6:57 a.m.

SPLASH model runs (used for predicting storm surge heights) indicated a storm surge of 11.5 feet for a 940 millibar storm moving north northwest at 11 knots making landfall just west of Mobile Bay.  Advisories warned that there would be a 10-15 foot storm surge near and up to fifty miles east of the center at landfall.  Interestingly, SPLASH runs indicated that the same storm making landfall just east of New Orleans would have resulted in a maximum storm surge of 19 feet at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

The storm was moving northwest at 12 mph, but was still expected to make a turn to a more northerly course.  I can remember listening to WWL early that morning and hearing Norman Robinette say that the turn had already begun.  In fact, WWL television meteorologist Nash Roberts would get in hot water with the National Weather Service.  Roberts had gone on the air the night before and told residents of New Orleans not to prepare since the hurricane was going to turn.  This was in direct contradiction to advice being issued by the local NWS office in New Orleans.

During the day, a total of 350,000 people evacuated low lying areas along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Northwest Florida.  Memories of Hurricane Camille were still fresh in the minds of Mississippians, who heeded the evacuation advices of local officials.  Local statements from the NWS Mobile were very specific with evacuation advices for coastal Alabama and Mississippi, stating that the preparations should be completed by noon.

Frederic made the expected slight turn to the north northwest, making landfall at about 10 p.m. CDT, passing over Dauphin Island and crossed the coastline near the Alabama/Mississippi border.  A wind gust of 145 miles per hour was measured on equipment atop the Dauphin Island Bridge.  The bridge was destroyed.  A wind gust of 139 mph was measured at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab before the equipment failed.  A storm surge of 12 feet was observed in Gulf Shores.  Nearly all structures within 200 yards of the Alabama coast were destroyed.  There were only two fatalities as a direct result of Frederic.  Total damages were 2.3 billion dollars, making Frederic the most expensive hurricane ever to strike the United States up to that point.


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Category: Met 101/Weather History

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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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  1. Acid Reign says:

    …..We had some pretty serious wind out of that storm all the way up in Birmingham. It blew the top of a big sycamore tree down on our house. And of course, we had the typical 4 days without power. Even if you survive one of these things with no property damage, you’re going to swelter in the heat for a few days.

    …..I had broken my foot on a trampoline just a few days before. The good thing about that is that I couldn’t help cut wood and carry it off.

  2. James/Jim (Tuscaloosa) says:

    Remember Dr. Sayers at UA didn’t cancel classes the next day, so I went on to class. I had the sense to not park near a tree. Mom worked @ UA also, and her car was hit lengthwise by a falling tree, knocking out the back window and a side window or two; though it was still drivable. On her way home, she heard others say Ohh, look at that one !!”, pointing at her car.

  3. Paul says:

    I remember that night as one of the longest of my life. I lived in Gulf Shores but went to Robertsdale to ride it out. We lost power early in the afternoon and didn’t get it back for about a week. Unbelievably loud. Not for an hour or two but all night. A roar plus the sounds of breaking trees and things hitting the house.

    The sights the next morning was surreal. A brother-in-law went somewhere in North Alabama and bought an old paper wood truck. We spent months after that cutting and selling wood.

  4. Scarlett Gaddy, Tuscaloosa, Alabama says:

    My family’s home in 1979 was on Mobile Bay, about 2 miles down Baldwin County Highway 1. We evacuated to Greenville, Al. before landfall of the storm and returned the next day, only to be met by National Guardsmen posted at the entrance to Baldwin County Hwy 1 who asked if we had a summer home down there. When our response was that it was our permanent home he was not encouraging about what we would find. What we saw when we drove down the street, was incredible devastation. Our home itself was intact, but close to five feet of water had passed through the home and there was about 3 inches of bay mud deposited throughout the house. We actually found a crab or two inside. Outside, the yard was a mass of planks from ours and many of the piers belonging to our neighbors and we had six trees on the house. There was so much debris that we could walk across the yard without touching the ground once. We were not able to live in the house for three months due to the damage. It was an incredible storm and Baldwin County was not the same for quite some time.

  5. Dave says:

    One thing I remember was a man I worked with at US Steel and a fellow photographer went to Mobile after the storm, his family lived in the Mobile area. He had just bought a flat bed crew cab truck at a state auction, to use for his Boy Scout troops camping trips. He found a generator loaded up every chain saw he could borrow, water and food and headed to Mobile. I was amazed at the photos he brought back. He used his truck to haul cut trees and limbs to a city park for later disposal

  6. L. Jones says:

    I don’t remember alot about Frederic, but I do remember the after math. We had a family home in Gulf Shores. It was a small block cabin, on the Lagoon. We had just left there a few weeks before. The next thing I knew, My uncle had loaded two Heavy Bulldozers from his work and headed down to help clear the roads to Fort Morgan and to our cabin. Most of my aunts and uncles, grandmother, mom and dad, returned to recover anything they could find and help out where they could. Once it was safe to return to where the cabin used to be all of the family returned to Gulf Shores. It was devestating. I was only 6 yrs old at the time. After all this was cleared I do remember the State requiring all homes to be built at least 10’off the ground. I will never forget this storm. It was my real true first disaster….. And it had a derect effect on me as a resident and beach lover……

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