Hurricane Sally’s eye is still approaching the mainland, and the storm rapidly intensified into a Category 2 hurricane early Wednesday drenching the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama with far reaching c
The storm is expected to make landfall Wednesday morning somewhere between Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Nearly 300,000 Alabama and Florida customers are without power as of 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to Poweroutage.us.
As of 5 a.m., Sally is still slowly crawling its way through the Southeast at 3 mph and is about 50 miles south-southeast of Mobile, Alabama and 40 miles southwest of Pensacola with sustained winds of 105 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extend out 40 miles with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 125 miles.
While Sally has “extremely dangerous” winds the hurricane’s defining characteristic has been its sluggish speed, allowing Sally more time to siege the coastline with strong storm surge and a longer period of time to inundate the mainland’s rivers, streams and lake with heavy rain.
Sally is forecast to produce rainfall totals of 8 to 12 inches with higher amounts up to 35 inches being possible just inland of the central Gulf Coast from west of Tallahassee to Mobile Bay.
“Historic and catastrophic flooding is unfolding. In addition, this rainfall will lead to widespread moderate to major river flooding,” the NHC said.
Sally could possibly become stronger before making landfall in the Gulf Coast, but is forecast to weaken into a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 mph upon reaching the mainland. It should also slightly speed up, as well, while turning northeastward Wednesday night.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from east of the Okaloosa-Walton county line in Florida to Indian Pass, the NHC said, and from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi to Grand Isle, Louisiana.
A storm surge warning is in effect from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Walton-Bay county line in Florida, from the Mouth of the Mississippi River to the Mouth of the Pearl River and in Mobile Bay.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for Escambia, Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Okaloosa, Walton, Washington and Santa Rosa counties.
President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and on Twitter urged residents to listen to state and local leaders.
The storm has already brought 15-inches of rainfall to Mobile Bay, said Mike Evans, deputy director of Mobile County emergency management agency, in an interview with CNN. The ground has become saturated making trees and power poles vulnerable to being pushed down by strong winds, Evans said. He and the team are waiting for sunrise to assess the damages. The agency has received minimal 911 calls, causing Evans to speculate most residents may have fled to inland shelters.
Sally’s long battle against the Gulf Coast started Tuesday afternoon with rain bands and rising sea waters reaching the mainland. Low lying properties in southeast Louisiana were swamped by the surge, according to the Associated Press. Water covered Mississippi beaches and parts of the highway that runs parallel to them. Two large casino boats broke loose from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Alabama.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves urged people in the southern part of his state to prepare for the potential for flash flooding.
As Sally’s outer bands reached the Gulf Coast, the manager of an alligator ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi, was hoping he wouldn’t have to live a repeat of what happened at the gator farm in 2005, AP reported. That’s when about 250 alligators escaped their enclosures during Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.
Sally had on Monday grown to a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds, but died back down to Category 1 status and is projected to potentially gain “some” strength before landfall.
Rain bands reached land as coastal roads along Pascagoula, Mississippi started flooding Tuesday from rising sea water, according to the Pascagoula Police Department.
Sally slow speed is not unlike 2017 1/4 u2032s Hurricane Harvey; another slow moving storm that dropped historic amounts of rainfall of more than 60 inches over southeastern Texas and surrounding communities. Harvey, a Category 4 storm, was the second most costly hurricane next to 2005 1/4 u2032s Hurricane Katrina.
Sally’s threat of flooding won’t just affect the Gulf Coast area, but it is also forecast stretch through the Southeast with 4-8 inches and some areas up to 12 inches across portions of southeastern Mississippi, southern and central Alabama, northern Georgia, and the western Carolinas, said NHC director Ken Graham in a Facebook video.
“Because of that slow movement, we’re going to see torrential rainfall, dangerous rainfall. Large forecast for the rainfall totals here,” said Graham who reinforced the forecast of some areas receiving up to 30 inches of rain. “That’s a history making amount of rain. Dangerous, very life threatening situation with that rainfall. You have to pay attention and have a plan and not be out there traveling. If water covers the road turn around. Don’t drown. It’s a dangerous situation to be on the roadways here.”
Graham also noted that the flash flooding could affect resident hundreds of miles from the coast.
Some inland areas near rivers and streams could experience 4 to 6 feet of flood water, said NHC forecaster Stacy Stewart. Anyone living in such an area should evacuate, he advised.
“[They] need to understand there is going to be extremely heavy rainfall, like what they may have never seen before,” Stewart said. “You don’t have to have a very powerful hurricane like a Category 3 hurricane to get significant storm surge.”
NHC experts found in a 2019 study, that 90 percent of hurricane related deaths are water related, and the major player responsible for those deaths was the storm surge, which accounted for 49 percent of hurricane related deaths. However, the interesting take away was the most powerful storm surges were seen not on the coast, but instead 100 miles inland, such as 2018 1/4 u2032s Hurricane Florence, which flooded rivers from North Carolina’s coast through state with storm surge waters.
Some tornadoes also could occur Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane hunting WP-3D Orion aircraft, NOAA43 also known as “Miss Piggy,” went on its last mission surveying Sally Tuesday afternoon. So far, the team has spent 29.5 flight hours observing the storm, partly because of its slow pace, said NOAA Aircraft Operations flight director Christopher Kerns.
“When storms slow down, it ramps up our stress,” Kerns said. “The longer it sits over [warm water], the longer it will intensify, and of course by proxy, the more missions we fly to observe it.”
The flight, a team of about eight or nine, will be flying to St. Croix after their mission observing Sally. Starting Wednesday, they’ll pick up the reigns to start surveying Tropical Storm Teddy.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Paulette is beginning to weaken after it passed over Bermuda on Monday. The storm is 415 miles south of Cape Race, Newfoundland and no longer a threat to land.
While the NHC’s most concerning storm at the moment is Sally, the hurricane center is keeping track of six other systems.
At 5 a.m. Tuesday, Hurricane Paulette was quickly moving at a fast 29 mph with maximum sustained winds maintaining 100 mph with higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reach outward up to 255 miles.
Paulette brought heavy rains to Bermuda while also producing swells, generating life-threatening rip current and surf conditions as far away as the southeastern U.S., the NHC said.
The surf conditions were responsible for the death of a 60-year-old man man Monday who went swimming off Lavallette, New Jersey with his 24-year-old son, according to a report by the Associated Press. Both were rescued but only the son lived.
Forming Monday morning, Hurricane Teddy formed early Wednesday and is a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph. It is expected to become a Category 4 major hurricane by Thursday and is headed in Bermuda’s general direction but at present is no threat to land.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.
As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, Teddy was located about 820 miles east of the Lesser Antilles moving northwest at 12 mph with tropical-storm force winds extending out 175 miles. Large swells could begin to hit the Lesser Antilles and South America on Wednesday.
Also Tropical Storm Vicky was located 755 miles northwest of the Cabo Verde Islands with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph moving west-northwest at 9 mph with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 80 miles.
Despite significant wind shear, Vicky is not weakening as forecasters expected, but the storm is still expected to lose strength and reach a remnant low within a couple days.
The NHC is also monitoring three other tropical developments in the already busy Atlantic.
First, a surface trough over the west-central Gulf of Mexico is producing limited shower activity. Any development should be slow in the next few days as it meanders over the Gulf waters, the NHC said. It has a low, 20% chance of developing in the next two days and a 40% chance of developing in the next five.
Second, the NHC says a low-pressure system that formed off a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa has more concentrated shower and thunderstorm activity and likely to develop into a tropical depression in the next couple of days. The system now a few hundred miles south-southeast of the Cabo Verde Islands is moving west at 10-15 mph. The NHC gives it a 50% chances of formation in the next two days, and 70% in the next five days.
Finally, a new system caught the NHC’s attention overnight located in a nontropical area in the far northeast Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles northeast of the Azores. The low-pressure system is forecast to move south-southeast in the next few days though and could encounter warmer waters with the potential to grow into a system with tropical or subtropical characteristics. The NHC gives is a 20% chance to form in the next two to five days.
If any of those systems develop into a tropical storm, they will be named “Wilfred” - the final name on the 2020 hurricane season name last. Any storm that develops after Wilfred will be designated a letter from the Greek alphabet.
Hurricane season ends on Nov. 30. NOAA forecast this year an estimated 19 to 25 named storms was possible before the end of season — it was the largest forecast NOAA ever predicted.
Orlando Sentinel staff writers David Harris, Katie Rice, Lynnette Cantos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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