Hurricane Frederic nearing the Alabama coast
|Formed||August 29, 1979|
|Dissipated||September 18, 1979|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained:
135 mph (215 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||943 mbar (hPa); 27.85 inHg|
|Fatalities||5 direct, 9 indirect|
|Damage||$2.3 billion (1979 USD)|
|Areas affected||Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, most of eastern North America|
|Part of the 1979 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Frederic was the sixth tropical cyclone, third hurricane and second major hurricane of the 1979 Atlantic hurricane season. Frederic was the costliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. Gulf Coast at that particular time. Starting with heavy rains and moderate winds over the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico, Frederic weakened to tropical-storm force across Cuba, regaining hurricane force in the Gulf of Mexico well before landfall in Alabama on the night of September 12, 1979, at Dauphin Island. By that time it had 125 mph (201 km/h) winds and storm surge of 8–12 ft (2-4.7 m). Frederic crossed the state line, slowing to a tropical storm near Meridian, Mississippi.
Damage estimates vary from $6–9 billion (2008 USD), with variations due to inadequate reporting of private insurance claims as well as lack of hard data on uninsured damage. FEMA, which had been established only three months before Frederic hit, was the focal point for nearly $250 million in federal aid for recovery, $188 million of which went to Alabama (1979 USD).
Frederic originated as a tropical wave which moved off the west coast of Africa late on August 27, 1979, and became a tropical depression at 0600 (GMT) on August 29. Moving westward with a steady forward speed of 18 knots, it strengthened into Tropical Storm Frederic at 1200 (GMT) on August 30 and was further upgraded to a hurricane at 0600 (GMT) on September 1, while centered approximately 650 miles (1045 km) east of Barbados.
Although conditions were initially very favorable for significant intensification, Frederic began to experience the outflow of Hurricane David (which had greatly intensified in the same area just days before). Subsequently, Frederic began a weakening trend early on September 2, when it weakened back to tropical storm status: this weakening trend would continue for several days as the storm followed in David's wake. Frederic passed over Puerto Rico and approached the Dominican Republic, then suddenly turned northwest during the afternoon of September 5 (just as David had done before): it passed just west of Santo Domingo on September 6. Further weakening caused Frederic to drop below tropical storm strength later on the 6th just north of Haiti.
Continuing westward, Frederic crossed southeastern Cuba before paralleling the island's southern coast for the next four days. During this period, Frederic eventually escaped the unfavorable conditions left behind by David and regained tropical storm strength 100 miles (160 km) east of Cuba's Isle of Pines at about 0000 (GMT) on September 9. A turn towards the northwest followed, and Frederic became a hurricane once more near 1200 (GMT) on September 10, as it moved away from the western tip of Cuba. Frederic achieved this despite its center of circulation remaining close to land, probably because of sea surface temperatures of 29-30C and favorable upper-level conditions due to the presence of a large anticyclone at 200mb over the storm.
Frederic continued to intensify as it moved into the Gulf Of Mexico, reaching peak intensity on 1200 (GMT) on September 12: at this time, Frederic had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) and a central pressure of 943 mb (HPa), making a Category 4 hurricane.
Frederic weakened slightly before it made landfall on Dauphin Island, Alabama at 0300 (GMT) on September 13. Sustained winds were estimated at 125 mph, making Frederic a strong Category 3 hurricane at the time. The central pressure at the time was 946 mb. Landfall on the mainland occurred about an hour later near the Mississippi state line.
Moving inland, Frederic turned north and northeast and was downgraded to a tropical storm near Meridian, Mississippi. Frederic became extratropical in southwestern Pennsylvania and moved rapidly northeastward across the remainder of North America. Frederic slowed slightly as it crossed the northern Atlantic, moving past the Faroe Islands just after midnight on September 18.
Up to 500,000 were evacuated from the U.S. Gulf Coast in anticipation of Frederic's arrival. At the time, this was the largest evacuation in Gulf Coast history. The picture is from the aftermath of the storm. People are lined up outside of an Ice House to get ice for keeping food cool.
Sustained winds of 25-35 kn with gusts up to 60 kn buffeted the northeastern Caribbean. In Antigua, they reported 100 km/h sustained gust, 80 km/h in St Kitts, 120 km/h in St Eustatius, 83 km/h in Saba. In the French islands such as Desirade, they reported 97 km/h as St. Barthelemy reported a sustained 144 km/h gust and St. Martin at least got a 113 km/h gust, where wind damages were minor. Frederic drown 7 sailors in the lagoon. The storm brought heavy rains from the northern Leeward Islands and Virgin Islands, where some tornadoes were also reported; in Guadeloupe and St. Thomas, 12 inches (300 mm) of rain fell in the space of 24 hours, while 24 inches (600 mm) fell in the space of 30 hours in St. Croix. At St. Maarten, a fishing boat sank killing seven people and killing others while the total still unknown in this island.
As much as 10 inches (0.3 m) of rain falling in 12 hours was reported in the eastern part of Puerto Rico. There were also some reports of tornadoes.
Heavy rains of up to 24 inches (.6 m) in total were experienced in the Dominican Republic for several days after the center of Frederic's circulation passed, which worsened the damage caused by David just a week earlier.
Frederic had minimal impact in eastern Cuba, but damage estimates were high in western Cuba due to a strengthening Frederic bringing tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains.
Storm surge damage was reported along 80 miles of coastline from Mississippi to Florida, with tides 8 to 12 feet (2.4-3.7 m) above the normal level being observed. Near-total property damage occurred along the Alabama coastline between Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores, the latter seeing 80% of its buildings completely destroyed. The causeway linking Dauphin Island to the mainland was swept away in many areas.
Wind damage was also severe, especially across southern Alabama. Hurricane-force gusts were felt as far inland as Choctaw County. Structural failure was widespread in the immediate landfall area with industrial, residential and governmental buildings as well as hospitals suffering heavy damage. Nearly 90% of the Mobile area lost electricity, and the historic City Hall experienced heavy roof damage. Many small beach houses were completely destroyed by high winds before the storm surge could add any effects.
Tree damage with broken limbs was extensive, leaving thousands of tall pine trees all tilted, leaning in the direction the wind had come.
Frederic also dumped heavy rainfall across much of the eastern United States: 8 to 12 inches (.3 m) of rain fell from Pascagoula to Mobile, and 2-4 inches fell along the hurricane's path as far as New England. Over a dozen tornadoes were also reported in Frederic's wake. However, these had minimal impact.
In total, Frederic was responsible for $2.3 billion (1979 USD) in damages. This made Frederic the costliest hurricane in the history of the United States at the time; the figure was not surpassed until Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Eleven counties in Alabama, sixteen in Mississippi, and five in Florida were declared eligible for disaster aid.
In retrospect, Frederic has been credited with spurring redevelopment in Mobile and the surrounding Gulf Coast region. For example, in testimony before Congress in 1992, Robert Sheets (then the director of the National Hurricane Center), described the economic aftermath of Frederic:
- "Prior to Hurricane Frederic, there was one condominium complex on Gulf Shores, Alabama. Most of the homes were single, individual homes built behind the sand dunes. Today, where there used to be one condominium, there are now at least 104 complexes – not units, complexes – on Gulf Shores, Alabama."
- National Hurricane Center (1979). "NHC Preliminary Report — Hurricane Frederic (1979) Page 1". Retrieved October 8, 2006.
- National Hurricane Center (1979). "NHC Preliminary Report — Hurricane Frederic (1979) Page 2". Retrieved October 8, 2006.
- National Hurricane Center (1979). "NHC Preliminary Report — Hurricane Frederic (1979) Page 7". Retrieved October 8, 2006.
- cuba hurricanes .org (2006). "Cuba Historic Hurricanes: Hurricane Frederic 1979". Retrieved October 8, 2006.
- David M. Roth (2011). "CLIQR Database". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2011-02-05.
- NOAA (March 26, 1980). "Monthly Weather Review — Atlantic Hurricane Season of 1979" (PDF). Retrieved October 8, 2006.
- United States Hurricanes. "Hurricane Frederic 1979". Archived from the original on 2006-12-30. Retrieved October 12, 2006.
- NOAA (March 22, 2006). "National Weather Service Forecast Office (Birmingham, AL) - Top 10 Weather Events in the 21st Century For Alabama". Retrieved October 8, 2006.[dead link]
- National Hurricane Center (1979). "NHC Preliminary Report — Hurricane Frederic (1979) Page 3". Retrieved October 12, 2006.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hurricane Frederic.|
- Radar loop of Hurricane Frederic
- Satellite loop of David, Elena, Frederic, and Gloria
- NHC archive of Hurricane Frederic
- Hurricane Frederic from the United States Hurricanes website.
- 20th Anniversary of Hurricane Frederic from FEMA website
- Hurricane Impacts on the Coastal Environment from the USGS website
- Frederic's path from Environment Canada website
- Observations over the NE Gulf of Mexico between June and October 1979 from a University of South Florida website
- Magazine Tells of Hurricane Frederic from the University of Alabama website
- WKRG Hurricane Frederic Archive Video
- The short film Hurricane Frederic Picking Up The Pieces (September 29, 1979) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]