Hurricane Ivan’s Impact on the Gulf Coast

Weather Education
Hurricane Ivan Wide_1516395448079.JPG.jpg

Hurricane Ivan was a high category 3 at landfall with winds between 120 and 130 mph. It made landfall around 1 am on Thursday, September 16, 2004 along the Fort Morgan Peninsula, near Gulf Shores. Ivan was the strongest Hurricane from Baldwin to Santa Rosa Counties in more than 100 years. 160 miles inland, near Demopolis, AL, a wind gust near 90 mph was recorded. Rain totals reached 15.75 inches in Pensacola, with a storm surge in Escambia Bay of 12 feet. Other parts of the coast saw up to 15 feet of surge. In the News 5 area, nearly a dozen people lost their lives, including some after the storm during cleanup.

See this slideshow of images after Ivan, from News 5 viewers. Post more of yours on the WKRG Facebook page.

At the time, Hurricane Ivan was the worst storm to strike the central Gulf Coast in 25 years. The name has since been retired. Ivan was a long-track, low latitude hurricane that reached category 5 status in the Caribbean. It did severe damage to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. In the central Gulf, Ivan produced waves of 50 feet. After landfall, the eye traveled northward through Alabama’s Baldwin County, then along the Alabama River into central Alabama. The worst damage was along the Gulf coastline of Baldwin County and Escambia County, Florida, but damage was extensive from wind and tornadoes in communities such as Atmore, Alabama, and others as far as 100 miles inland. In Alabama alone, more than a half a billion dollars in timber was lost.

The insured losses from Ivan in the United States were over 14 billion dollars.

The Mobile National Weather Service office has an extensive summary of the events surrounding Hurricane Ivan’s landfall. Check the National Hurricane Center for their comprehensive summary of Ivan. FEMA has compiled an extensive set of images showing how bad the surge flooding was. Check out FEMA’s Ivan Flood Recovery Maps.

Montage satellite image of the life of Ivan 
Enhanced satellite loop of landfall from NOAA 
Pensacola Before and After from NASA space images 
Ivan’s life seen from NASA space images 
The USGS has more dramatic before and after pictures

Hurricane Ivan had many lessons for how we build our communities and how we look at other storm threats. New construction has higher standards for wind, and literally higher elevation in flood zones. Compromised bridges were rebuilt higher after Ivan. The importance of beach vegetation and sand renourishment is understood. Drainage improvement lessens damage and speeds up recovery. A solid infrastructure is vital but that takes dollars. Communities have learned that putting utility lines underground diminishes the impact of the next storm. Emergency managers have more comprehensive mitigation and evacuation plans, including reverse 911 calling. There are more people on our coast and many have never seen a storm like Ivan. For them and for all of us, Ivan taught us that personal responsibility and a family action plan is a must.

Since Hurricane Ivan, we have more technology to show us hurricanes a little more clearly but not perfectly. Smart phones and weather apps with alerts give you more data than ever before. Social media should help communicate critical information but it may also pass on misinformation. None of this will stop a tree from falling in the wind of a storm. Hurricane Ivan set a benchmark that will one day be broken. That’s why we prepare for this hurricane season and every hurricane season for the next storm.

Share your photos, videos and memories of Hurricane Ivan on the WKRG Facebook page.

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