As Sally throws itself just off the coast, it causes already widespread flooding and power outages.
Hurricane Sally, moving at a walking pace across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, gathered strength overnight, though the course shifted east toward Pensacola, Fla.
Sally’s slow pace and swinging road, which moved only 2 miles per hour as it intensified early Wednesday to a Category 2 hurricane at 100 miles per hour, has increased the chances that the storm could cause catastrophic floods.
As much as 30 inches of rain could fall in an area stretching from the Florida Panhandle to the Mississippi, amplifying a four- to six-foot storm surge around Dauphin Island off the coast of Alabama, according to the National Hurricane Center. The forecasts also warned of life-threatening floods.
“This is a life-threatening situation. SEARCH HIGHER EARTH NOW !!, ”warned the National Weather Service office in Mobile, Ala. In a tweet.
Late Tuesday, residents and local news outlets in Mobile and Gulf Shores, Ala., Posted videos of raging winds, storm surges and heavy rain. Videos from Pensacola Beach, Fla., Showed storm surge pushing seawater into residential streets and parks. According to the National Weather Service, a casino barge near the Code in Ala broke loose due to strong winds and storm surge and slammed into a dock.
In recent days, the storm’s expected landing point has turned nearly 200 miles. It was once expected to tear over the remote, low-lying areas of southeastern Louisiana and possibly reach beyond New Orleans’ metropolitan area, but recent projections show that Sally is rocking the southeast corner of the Mississippi as it carries on the Alabama and Florida Panhandle.
John De Block, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., Said the storm drifted “at a child’s speed in a candy store” as if it were walking through the hallways, waffling over its choices.
“I’m well aware that those on the Gulf Coast are all too familiar with Mother Nature’s anger,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday. “We hope and still pray that Sally will not bring that kind of pain and heartache, but my fellow Alabamians, Hurricane Sally must not be taken for granted.”
A hurricane warning remained in effect for an area extending from Bay St. Louis, Miss., Near the Louisiana border, to Navarre, near the tip of the Florida Panhandle.
A tropical storm warning covered the area west of the Pearl River to Grand Isle, La. – including the metropolitan area of New Orleans – and east of Navarre to Indian Pass, Fla.
Officials urged people to take advantage of the slow pace of the storm and get out of harm’s way. Those who stayed behind were warned that the water could climb high.
“I have seen streets and neighborhoods quickly fill with five, six, seven and even more depths of water in a short time,” said Sam Cochran, the sheriff of Mobile County during a briefing Tuesday.
For those who stay behind, he added, it could be “a few days or longer before we can get you out.”
There is a deep respect for the weather in the 318-year-old port city of Mobile, Ala., Where hurricanes have always been a fact. The evidence Tuesday was in its nearly empty downtown streets as night fell and the city waited for Hurricane Sally, which was driving slowly, to land.
Bars and restaurants that had signs of the coronavirus crisis (“No handshake,” it was declared) were now sandbagged in anticipation of the new crisis coming from the south. Violent winds animated the arms of old oak trees. Traffic lights on wires thrown and shaken.
In Bienville Square, the 19th-century fountain in honor of Dr. George Ketchum, who helped bring reliable drinking water to the city, burled along with almost no one to see it.
Over the last day or so, some longtime Mobile residents said Hurricane Sally, with its dangerous and stubborn exposure, reminded them of Hurricane Danny in 1997, which was also moving at a creeping pace while dumping rain for hours, triggering mudslides and catastrophic river floods in South Alabama.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson urged people in low-lying areas known to be flooded to move to higher ground.
“The prayers we make for you, the warnings we give you, are serious,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “They’re talking about unprecedented amounts of rainfall.”
Still recovering from Hurricane Laura and now bracing after Hurricane Sally, residents along the Gulf Coast and East Coast have sustained reports of other major storms developing in the Atlantic.
On Monday, before tropical depression Rene dissolved, there were five simultaneous named storms in the Atlantic, which has not happened since 1971, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Three are still active.
Hurricane Paulette packed winds of 100 miles per hour about 450 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada, threatening to bring dangerous surf and tear current conditions to Bermuda, the Bahamas and parts of the Atlantic coast.
Tropical Storm Teddy was gaining strength about 865 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, and it was expected to be close to “greater hurricane strength” as it approached Bermuda over the weekend.
Reporting was contributed by Johnny Diaz, Richard Fausset, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Daniel Victor and Will Wright.