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Opal - 1995
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Hurricane Opal

A tropical wave emerged from the west coast of Africa into the eastern Atlantic Ocean on September 11. The wave moved westward at a moderate pace, and reached the Caribbean Sea on September 23 as it merged with an area of low pressure. This combined system continued WNW through the waters of the Caribbean, and became Tropical Depression Seventeen while located just about 70 miles SSE of Cozumel, Mexico on September 27. The steering currents over the depression were quite weak, so a slow drift to the west was initiated over the next few days, which took the storm over the Yucatan Peninsula over the next three days. The depression was able to retain its composition over land, however, and in fact it strengthened into Tropical Storm Opal while still located over the northern tip of the peninsula on September 30. After reaching the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Opal continued to strengthen and began to pick up speed to the WSW into the Bay of Campeche. Another period of stalling began on October 1, until a trough located over the central United States began to accelerate the storm to the northeast the following day. Opal became a hurricane at this time, and began a period of unexpected rapid intensification. The hurricane moved over waters that were unusually warm on October 3rd and 4th, and the pressure dropped from 968 mbar on the 3rd, to its peak intensity of 916 mbar just 24 hours later when the storm was located about 250 miles southwest of Pensacola, Florida. Opal weakened after this due to an eyewall replacement cycle and cooler water temps, but was still a powerful Category 3 storm when it made landfall at Pensacola Beach, FL at 5 PM EST on October 4 with winds of 115 mph and a pressure of 942 mbar. Despite the fact that the winds had greatly decreased, the storm surge was still severe. After landfall, Opal quickly weakened to a tropical storm over southern Alabama, and then a depression over Tennessee as it continued its trek to the northeast. The remnant became extratropical over the Ohio Valley hours later. A total of 59 people were killed due to Opal; 31 in Guatemala during the development stages of the depression, 19 in Mexico due to flooding, and nine in the United States. Surprisingly, despite the high storm surge, no deaths were reported due to flooding in the United States. Damages from Opal totaled 5 Billion dollars (inflation adjusted to 2005).