Powerful Hurricane Ivan Slams the Central Gulf Coast as a Category 3 Storm - September 16, 2004
At 51 minutes after midnight on 16 September 2004, the northern eyewall of powerful Hurricane Ivan moved onto land near Gulf Shores, AL as a Category 3 hurricane (Saffir-Simpson Scale). Ivan made landfall at approximately 150am CDT (ie. when the center of Ivan's eye crossed land). Bringing with it 120 mph sustained surface winds and a historic storm surge, the magnitude and extent of the damage and destruction over Baldwin County in Alabama and Escambia and Santa Rosa counties of northwest Florida exceeded that of both Hurricane Frederic (September 1979) and Hurricane Opal (October 1995). Hurricane Ivan may rival the magnitude of damage and destruction caused by the Hurricane of 1926 which ravaged the aforementioned counties east of Mobile Bay. Hurricane Ivan caused a total of 8 deaths in the western Florida Panhandle (7 in Escambia County and 1 in Santa Rosa County.) Damage is estimated to have been near 14 billion US Dollars.
Before and After Aerial Damage Photos
A microbaragraph, which measures atmospheric pressure, shows pressure with time as the western eyewall approached the National Weather Service Office located on Bates Field in western Mobile, AL. The observed minimum central pressure was 28.48 inches (or 964mb). Brookley Field (KBFM, not shown) was located 32 miles northwest of the eye and measured 28.23 inches (or 956mb) of atmospheric pressure. The minimum central pressure measured by NOAA Research Aircraft at the time of landfall was 27.85 inches (or 943mb). Note: the 13mb pressure difference that existed over a straight line distance from Brookley Field in northwest Mobile Bay to the center of Ivan located over extreme southeastern Mobile Bay.
Table 1 below gives hourly 0.5 degree radar reflectivity images taken from the National Weather Service WSR-88D Doppler Weather Radar in Mobile, AL (KMOB) prior to, during and after landfall. View an animated hourly radar loop of Hurricane Ivan.
Table 1 - Hourly radar reflectivity images (0.5 deg) taken from the NWS WSR-88D Doppler Radar in Mobile, AL (KMOB) prior to, during and after landfall.
N Eyewall Landfall
As a major characteristic of most landfalling hurricanes, Ivan's maximum surface winds occurred within the right front quadrant of the storm (or northeast of Ivan's center given the orientation of approach in this case) just prior to and after landfall.
WSR-88D radar reflectivity location of strongest surface winds at the time of landfall.
WSR-88D radar velocity location of strongest surface winds surrounding landfall or 8 min resolution .gif (large ~18MB) or 4 min resolution .gif (very large ~36MB).
Note: the large area of 124 knot winds at the 3000 feet level above ground northeast through east with respect to Ivan's center.
A loss of power and phone lines well before landfall rendered many observational platforms unable to continue logging data. Table 2 below yields information on regional peak wind gusts during this event. Click on the buoy and Dauphin Island, Alabama C-MAN locations in Table-2 below to view time series plots of sustained wind speeds, wind gusts and wave heights. You may note upon observing Buoy 42040 (70 miles south of Dauphin Island, AL) that significant wave heights reached a maximum of 52 feet (not to be confused with storm surge along the coast). Buoy 42040 later went adrift from its mooring. Note: most of the peak wind gust data was obtained from the relatively weaker west side of Ivan. Although there are no surface wind observations available over inland southwestern Alabama, an estimated 80-100 mph winds near Ivan's center caused major tree and structural damage along his path over Escambia, Conecuh, Monroe and Wilcox counties of Alabama.
Table 2 - Observed peak wind gusts and times during Hurricane Ivan. Wind gusts observed on September 16 unless otherwise noted.
*** Indicates Eglin Air Force Base, FL Wind Sensor
Location Peak Wind Gust Value (mph) Time Location Peak Wind Gust Value (mph) Time Sailboat anchored in Wolf Bay
Baldwin County, AL
145 unknown 2 SW Mary Esther, FL
200' high over Gulf
119 350am Buoy 42040
70mi south of Dauphin Island, AL
85 15th at 443pm Gulf Shores Airport, AL
115 unknown Buoy 42007
20mi south of Ocean Springs, MS
78 1242am Pensacola Naval Air Station, FL
107 138am Mobile, AL
KMOB, Bates Field
75 212am Pensacola, FL
106 144am Mobile, AL Downtown
74 104am Battleship Park, AL
on Mobile Bay
(no data after)
72 15th at 1118pm
Dauphin Island, AL
102 15th at 1029pm Grand Bay, AL
71 1217am Pensacola Airport, FL
(no data after)
8 SW Mossy Head, FL 69 1210am 10 S Harold, FL *** 90 1210am Spanish Fort, AL 59 300am Fairhope, AL
59 1230am 10 N Mary Esther, FL *** 86 1230am Grand Bay, AL
58 1217am 5 NE Seminole, FL *** 86 440am Semmes, AL
56 midnight Evergreen, AL
Ivan's path of destruction did not stop in the coastal counties, however. The winds around the center of a landfalling hurricane can remain above hurricane force (> 74 mph) well inland (and most certainly in higher gusts). That was certainly the case with Ivan.
Path of Ivan traced out by the highest radar reflectivities (> 50 dBZ, obtained from the KMOB WSR-88D)
In these intense squalls very near the eyewall, higher winds just above the surface are efficiently transported down to the ground. As one can see in the above figure, Ivan carved a path of wind destruction as it moved well away form the coast. The National Weather Service in Mobile, AL issued Inland Hurricane High Wind Warnings for the affected counties well in advance of Ivan's arrival into inland southwest Alabama.
Table 3 yields event regional storm surge information obtained from various tide gauges. The maximum surge along this stretch of coastline ranged from 10-15 feet. Fortunately, for downtown Mobile, AL, the center of Ivan passed to the east preventing nearly 16 to 18 feet of devastating storm surge, which would have happened if Ivan would have made landfall west of Mobile Bay.
Table 3 - Observed storm surge data during Hurricane Ivan. Courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.
1 USGS gage 2 Outside High Water Mark 3 Inside High Water Mark
Tide Gage Designation
1Mississippi Sound at Waveland, MS (USGS)
Gulfport Harbor at Gulfport, MS (540)
Mississippi Sound at Ship Island
Biloxi Bay at Point Cadet
Back Bay Biloxi at Biloxi, MS
1West Pascagoula River at Hwy 90 at Gautier, MS
2Pascagoula River (NOAA) at Pascagoula, MS
Mississippi Sound at Pascagoula PI- Rear Range
Mississippi Sound at Petit Bois Island
1Escatawpa River at I-10 nr Orange Grove, MS
Middle Gage at Bayou LaBatre
2Mobile Bay at Cedar Point, AL
3Dauphin Island Bay at Dauphin Island
2Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island (USCG)
Mobile River at Mobile, AL
Mobile River at Bucks, AL (Barry Steam Plant)
Mobile Bay at Ft Morgan Front Range
Mobile Bay at Middle Bay Light House
Perdido Pass Orange Beach, AL
GIWW at Pensacola Gulf Beach, FL
3Pensacola Bay at Ft. McRee, FL (USCG)
3Pensacola Bay at Pensacola, FL (NOAA)
3Escambia Bay West Bank at HWY 90
3Escambia Bay West Bank 1.5 miles N of I-10
3GIWW at Gulf Breeze, FL
1Yellow River near Milton, FL
Fort Walton Brooks Bridge
Destin at Choctawhachee Bay (USCG)
GIWW at Choctawhachee Bay (HWY 331)
GIWW at West Bay, FL (HWY 79)
St Andrew Bay at Panama City, FL
Watson Bayou at Panama City, FL
Apalachicola River at Apalachicola, FL
GIWW at St. George Island, FL
Carrabelle River at Carrabelle, FL
Regarding rainfall, the highest amounts occurred east of Ivan's center as it moved northward into southwestern Alabama.
Storm Total Precipitation measured by the Mobile, Alabama WSR-88D
The time span of rainfall shown in the above image ranges from September 14th at 734pm CDT to September 16th at 429pm (2004). The absence of shower and thunderstorm activity prior to the arrival of Ivan's significant rainbands means that this time period captured nearly all of the event rainfall associated with Ivan. The radar-estimated data shows a large swath of greater than 5 inches of rain over coastal Alabama and the extreme western Florida Panhandle. Fortunately, due to Ivan's relatively fast northerly motion (13-16mph) after landfall, rainfall amounts were limited compared to some past tropical systems (eg. Hurricane Danny 1997 which deposited nearly 43 inches of rainfall over a two-day period while over southwestern Mobile Bay). A narrow swath of heavy rain occurred about 15 miles either side of a line from Orange Beach, AL to Barrineau Park, FL to Atmore, AL to just west of Monroeville, AL. Along this line, radar estimated between 10-15 inches of rain. Rainfall amounts were much less west of I-65 in Alabama where 2-4 inches of rain fell.
Table 4 - 48 hour rainfall totals ending 7pm CDT on September 16 for select locations.
NOTE: lesser amounts were west of Ivan's track
Location 48hr Rainfall (in.) ending
September 16 - 7pm CDT
Location 48hr Rainfall (in.) ending
September 16 - 7pm CDT
Pensacola, FL (WEAR Studios)
Silverhill, AL (3S)
Mobile, AL (7S KMOB)
Andalusia, AL (HAM)
Mobile, AL (2S KMOB)
Mobile, AL (3S KMOB)
Mossy Head, FL (10S)
Coden, AL (NWS COOP)
Crestview, FL (HAM)
Ft. Walton, FL (HAM)
Seminole, FL (5 NE)
Harold, FL (10S)
Mobile, AL (10S KMOB)
Mobile, AL (Bates Field, KMOB)
Pensacola Naval Air Station (NPA)
Richton, MS (NWS COOP)
Valparaiso, FL (Eglin AFB, KVPS)
Thomasville, AL (NWS COOP)
Evergreen, AL (NWS COOP)
Dothan, AL (KDHN)
Troy, AL (KTOI)
Acknowledgements: Page created by Jeffrey Medlin (former SOO, now MIC), Ray Ball (ITO) and Gary Beeler (former WCM) with contributions from members of the NWS Mobile staff. MVERIFY buoy and C-MAN time series provided by David Eversole (Lead Forecaster).
LAST UPDATED: June 2015