Hurricane Sally makes landfall as category 2 storm, threatens ‘catastrophic and life-threatening’ floods

Weather

Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Sally approaches in Gulf Shores, Alabama, U.S., September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — A newly strengthened Hurricane Sally pummeled the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama with sideways rain, beach-covering storm surges, strong winds and power outages early Wednesday, moving toward shore at an agonizingly slow pace that promised a drawn out drenching and possible record floods.

Some 150,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions.

Sally made land fall in Gulf Shores, Alabama at 4:45 a.m. (CT) as a Category 2 storm.

Sally rapidly strengthened as it approached land, quickly rising into a Category 2 storm, packing 105 mph winds. It was 50 miles south-southeast of Mobile, Alabama, and moving north-northeast at 3 mph.

“Some slight increase in strength is possible before the center of Sally’s eye makes landfall later this morning. Rapid weakening is expected after landfall occurs,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 4 a.m. (CT) update.

Sally was a rare storm that could make history, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

“Sally has a characteristic that isn’t often seen and that’s a slow forward speed and that’s going to exacerbate the flooding,” Rappaport told The Associated Press.

He likened the storm’s slow progression to that of Hurricane Harvey, which swamped Houston in 2017. Up to 30 inches of rain could fall in some spots, and “that would be record-setting in some locations,” Rappaport said in an interview Tuesday night.

Although the hurricane had the Alabama and Florida coasts in its sights Wednesday, its effects were felt all along the northern Gulf Coast. Low lying properties in southeast Louisiana were swamped by the surge. 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.

In Orange Beach, Alabama, Chris Parks, a resident of Nashua, New Hampshire, spent the night monitoring the storm and taking care of his infant child as strong winds battered his family’s hotel room. The family was visiting the state before their return flight back to New Hampshire was canceled. Now, they are stuck in Alabama until Friday. “I’m just glad we are together,” Parks said. “The wind is crazy. You can hear solid heavy objects blowing through the air and hitting the building.”

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. That’s when about 250 alligators escaped their enclosures during Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.

Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours Manager Tim Parker says Sally has been a stressful storm because forecasters were predicting a storm surge of as much as 9 feet in the area. But he has felt some relief after seeing the surge predictions had gone down.

After dumping rain on the coast Wednesday, Sally was forecast to bring heavy downpours to parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas later in the week.

Sally’s power was an irresistible draw for some in its path.

With heavy rains pelting Navarre Beach, Fla., and the wind-whipped surf pounding, a steady stream of people walked down the wooden boardwalk at a park for a look at the scene Tuesday afternoon.

Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of staying too long, noting that police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. With Hurricane Sally expected to dump rain for days, the problem could be worse than normal, she said.

“Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here,” she said.

The extraordinarily busy hurricane season – like the catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast – has focused attention on the role of climate change.

Scientists say global warming is making the strongest of hurricanes, those with wind speeds of 110 mph or more, even stronger. Also, warmer air holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging.

In addition, scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17% since 1900, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey did in Houston.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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