Hurricane Frederic, 1979

Weather Education
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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — September 1979:  Hurricane Frederic. A historic storm, directly striking Mobile with impact far beyond. This program is about the devastation to our communities, the determination for recovery, and the development that followed. Frederic is a storm we cannot forget.

Chief Meteorologist Alan Sealls and the First Alert Storm Team share this collection of reflection of Frederic. We start in south Mobile County on Dauphin island and see how the landfall with wind over 130 mph created waves that destroyed the Dauphin Island Bridge.

What’s remarkable about Frederic is that only 5 lives were lost from a Category 4 storm. Even in 1979, people were prepared.

We study the past to prepare for the future. News Anchor Mel showers summed up Frederic: “The mother of all hurricanes as far as Mobile and Baldwin Counties are concerned. When it came through, it devastated the place. Thank God we didn’t have a lot of loss of life. But we had a lot of loss of property. The very next day, I was down in Gulf Shores, I had managed to hitch a ride on a military vehicle. And WOW. You talk about torn up. I’m interviewing people and they are saying we are going to rebuild.

“We lost 4 businesses here and certainly going to build back. “

It was truly devastating like that all along the coast. We had to become very resourceful in the aftermath. The water system was contaminated for a few days, the electricity was out, and my neighborhood went one of the longest stretches without it.

There were lines everywhere. Lines for water, lines for ice. People would stand in line for ice all day if they had to. They became so resourceful, they said, the hurricane didn’t hit Pensacola. My wife and family took the trip to Pensacola to get items that were needed, and there weren’t any lines.

We had enough advanced warning in my opinion to make preparations for the storm. So, one of the things I did was fill up many of milk jugs, the plastic containers of fresh water.

I had stacks of water. The general manager of WKRG who is up here when it comes to life and I’m down here and he had to come to me to borrow water and I thought that was quite a change of position.

Now, one thing Frederic proved is that you don’t have to be a category 5 to cause catastrophic damage because it did. It sure felt like it though.“

It’s the structure and motion of a hurricane that defines the impact. Simply put, Hurricane Frederic was a mess to homes and businesses, but also to agriculture. The Pecan industry took a punch from the storm. Many farmers switched from Pecan farming to row crops.

Drive around south Mobile County to see the legacy of Frederic in the Pecan trees- not from the ones that are there, but from the ones that are missing.

There, you’ll also find a thriving seafood industry that was handicapped after Frederic. Determination got us through the aftermath.

Many people remember the tremendous losses at Bellingrath Gardens- saved by many people who donated plants. From plant growth to condo growth, we can attribute hurricane Frederic as the trigger for some of the biggest changes on the coast of Baldwin County.

Devastation, determination, development. A cycle we’ve since seen and will see again. One day, another Frederic will come, and if you live on the Gulf Coast long enough, you’ll live through many other tropical storms and hurricanes. Be prepared, have a plan for your family and pets, use the resources on wkrg.com and use our WKRG weather app.

The First Alert Storm Team is here every hurricane season on TV and on social media to give you a solid forecast to prepare for a storm.

On the evening of September 12, 1979, Hurricane Frederic crossed the west end of Dauphin Island as a Category 4 hurricane. It then traveled northward along the Alabama-Mississippi state line. According to the National Weather Service…

  • Frederic was the first hurricane to directly strike Mobile County since the 1930s.
  • It set an all-time record low pressure at Mobile’s airport.
  • Damage costs were around $2.3 billion at the time.
  • It still had hurricane-force winds near Meridian, Mississippi.
  • Nearly a foot of rain fell in Jackson County, Mississippi.
  • Mobile Bay saw up to 10 feet of storm surge while some Gulf Beaches saw up to 15 feet.
  • A half million people in the region evacuated and that helped to keep the direct death toll to around a half-dozen.
  • Some people were without electricity in Mobile for months.

Here’s the full story of Frederic from Mobile’s National Weather Service Office.

Watch the original videos of Frederic’s aftermath recorded by WKRG-TV on YouTube. NOAA’s Natural Disaster Survey, following Hurricane Frederic. Here are more photos of damage along Dog River from Frederic.

These are some of the reports of highest wind gusts from Frederic. Note that many instruments failed so these are not the highest wind that Frederic produced.

  • 145 mph Dauphin Island, AL
  • 115 mph Pascagoula, MS
  • 97 mph Mobile’s Airport
  • 96 mph NAS Pensacola
  • 90 mph Hattiesburg, MS
  • 78 mph Pensacola, FL

These are some Storm Tide values reported from Hurricane Frederic.

  • 12 feet Gulf Shores
  • 12 feet south of Mobile Tunnel
  • 11 feet Fort Morgan
  • 9 feet Bayou La Batre
  • 9 feet Fairhope

Watch this “retro video” documentary- Hurricane Frederic, Picking up the Pieces, from the National Archives.

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