County not immune to nature#039;s fury

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 2, 2003

Covington County does not sit directly on the Gulf of Mexico, but that has not kept the south-central county from being plagued by hurricanes and intense storms during past hurricane seasons.

The county has seen more than its share of storms from direct hits like Opal in October of 1995 to storms that sent rain and evacuees to Covington County like Frederic in 1979.

The Alabama coastline has not had a direct hit by a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane in more than 100 years which has staff members at the National Weather Service Office in Mobile a little anxious.

In a special publication designed to educate and inform citizens about hurricane season, the National Weather Service does not expect Alabama to remain as fortunate.

"One can clearly see that we are very much overdue for an extreme hurricane," the publication reads. "In addition, it has been more than 20 years since either Mobile or Baldwin county had received a direct hit from a Category 3 hurricane. In 1979, Hurricane Frederic devastated the Mobile area with widespread wind damage and significant coastal flooding and storm damage as it moved ashore in Mobile County as a strong Category 3 hurricane."

Frederic did not generate a lot of rain, according to the publication, but Covington County felt the effects of the storm as residents of Mobile County and Baldwin County went north to escape the storm.

Other storms have also impacted Covington County's weather. Hurricane Juan was a storm out of the Gulf of Mexico in October 1985. The storm did not "come over Covington County," according to the National Weather Service. The storm did, however, hit Conecuh and Escambia County.

An unnamed storm hit Escambia County in August 1987.

A tropical storm hit Covington County on June 30, 1994. The storm could have been much worse as residents found out a little more than a year later.

"Frederic actually went west of the county," Gary Beeler with the National Weather Service said. "The most damage in the county was done by Opal in 1995 as the center of the storm moved through the county. There were trees down everywhere.

"In fact, the winds were probably as high over parts of Covington County as they were when the eye moved ashore," Beeler added.

Hurricane Opal was a terror for Covington County in October 1995. The Category 4 hurricane produced extremely powerful winds which caused massive damage in the area. Tornado and hurricane damage was obvious throughout Covington County. Opal was a declared storm by the National Weather Service.

In 1997, county residents witnessed a much milder storm when Category 1 Hurricane Danny made landfall on July 17.

A Category 2 hurricane hit the county in September 1998. Hurricane Earl was a Category 2 storm, but no major damage was reported, according to the National Weather Service.

Twenty-five days later, Hurricane Georges packed a punch when the Category 4 storm weakened to a Category 2 storm before landfall. Georges was still strong enough to produce flooding in the area and was a declared storm by the National Weather Service.

Georges made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but still produced heavy rainfall throughout parts of southern Alabama and the western Florida panhandle.

The latest severe weather to hit Covington County during hurricane season was Tropical Storm Barry in August 2001. The storm produced strong winds which left damage in the county.