Hurricane Sally intensified again to a Category 2 storm early Wednesday on its lumbering journey to the Gulf Coast, threatening to bring heavy rains and “historic life-threatening flooding” from southeastern Louisiana to Florida’s Panhandle.
Tropical-storm-force winds arrived onshore along the Gulf Coast on Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said, adding that the center of the storm would “make landfall in the hurricane warning area early Wednesday.”
The National Weather Service office in Mobile, Alabama, projected late Tuesday night that Sally would come ashore around 7 a.m. Wednesday near Orange Beach, on Alabama’s eastern Gulf Coast between Mobile and Pensacola, Fla.
Sally, which was downgraded to Category 1 on Tuesday before strengthening again as it moved closer to landfall, was 60 miles south-southeast of Mobile and 55 miles southwest of Pensacola at 1 a.m. CDT. The storm, traveling at just 2 mph, had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
Sally will be the eighth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year — the most through Sept. 16 in recorded history, surpassing the seven storms of 1916, Klotzbach said Tuesday night on Twitter. The record for most continental U.S. landfalls in a single Atlantic season is nine, also set in 1916.
The storms’s dangers will be felt for miles with hurricane warnings in effect from east of Bay St. Louis, Louisiana, to Navarre, Florida.
“There is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the Hurricane Center, said Tuesday. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”
The Hurricane Center said the storm’s center will continue to move slowly to the northwest and north on Tuesday as it nears the coast of southeastern Louisiana. It will then turn northeast as it comes ashore and continues to trudge across the Southeast later in the week.
Forecasters say Sally could bring 10 to 20 inches of rain from the Florida Panhandle to southeast Mississippi, with some isolated pockets of rain up to 30 inches. The rain along and just inland of the coast could bring “historic life-threatening flash flooding” through Wednesday, the Hurricane Center said.
Up to seven feet of storm surge was also forecast across Alabama’s coastline from the Mississippi border to Florida border, forecasters said. Isolated tornadoes could also occur Wednesday across portions of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, according to the Hurricane Center.
As it moves inland, Sally could also dump up to a foot of rain along pockets of southeastern Mississippi, southern and central Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas. The US President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, along the western part of the Panhandle, which already was being pummeled with rain from Sally’s outer bands.
Outside Pensacola, Quietwater Beach was completely underwater and county public works employees could be seen wading through knee-high water to secure trash cans and other items. The Pensacola Bay Bridge also closed Tuesday morning amid wind and rain, and over the course of the day, it is likely that more and more routes to coastal communities will be cut off.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey also issued a state of an emergency closing Alabama’s beaches. The causeway to Dauphin Island, which was already flooding, was closed, and downtown Mobile was nearly deserted. Ivey warned residents living along the Gulf, especially south of Interstate 10 or in low-lying areas, to evacuate if conditions permit.
“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday.
Sally had threatened to batter New Orleans, where thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Laura were staying, but turned east over the past day. Laura devastated much of southwestern Louisiana after it roared ashore as a Category 4 storm, the first major hurricane of the 2020 season.