Hurricane Sally set to bring ‘potentially historic’ floods, fierce winds

Weather

BILOXI, Miss. (NewsNation Now) — Hurricane Sally continues to close in on the Louisiana-Mississippi coast Monday with maximum sustained winds of least 85 mph and the potential for up to 2 feet of rain that could bring severe flooding. On Monday, Sally was one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic basin before tropical depression Rene dissipated over the central Atlantic ocean.

“Sally is still expected to be a dangerous hurricane when it moves onshore along the north-central Gulf coast,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 7 a.m. (CT) update.

Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies ahead of the storm, which was expected to reach Louisiana’s southeastern tip around midday Tuesday and make its way sluggishly northward into Mississippi late Tuesday night on a path that could menace the New Orleans metropolitan area with storm surge and cause a prolonged deluge of rain through southern Mississippi eastward to the Florida panhandle

The National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama warned of the increasing likelihood of “dangerous and potentially historic flooding.” The weather service forecast that waters could rise as much as 9 feet above ground in large parts of the Mobile metro area. With a population of 400,000 people, it is among the largest metro areas along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Tampa, Florida. Some businesses in Mobile placed sandbags at their entrances in preparation.

Forecasters predict Sally will be a strong hurricane by the time it nears the coast. It could give Louisiana its second pounding from a hurricane in less than three weeks.

As of the 7 a.m. CDT update from the National Hurricane Center, the center of Sally will continue to slowly approach southeastern Louisiana Tuesday morning, and make landfall in the area under a hurricane warned area late Tuesday night or early Wednesday.

Watches and Warnings:

A storm surge warning is in effect for:

  • Mouth of the Mississippi River to the Okaloosa/Walton County Line, Florida
  • Mobile Bay

A hurricane warning is in effect for:

  • East of the Mouth of the Pearl River to Navarre, Florida

A tropical storm warning is in effect for:

  • East of Navarre, Florida to Indian Pass, Florida
  • Mouth of the Pearl River westward to Grand Isle, Louisiana, including Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans

At 7 a.m. local time, it was about 65 miles east of the mouth of Mississippi River, and about 105 miles southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi.

“That system is forecast to bring not only damaging winds but a dangerous storm surge,” said Daniel Brown of the Hurricane Center. “Because it’s slowing down, it could produce a tremendous amount of rainfall over the coming days.”

Sally could produce rain totals up to 24 inches by the middle of the week, forecasters said.

Sally’s sluggish pace could give it more time to drench the Mississippi Delta with rain and push storm surge ashore.

People in New Orleans watched the storm’s track intently. A more easterly course could bring torrential rain and damaging winds to Mississippi. A more westerly track would pose another test for the low-lying city, where heavy rains have to be pumped out through a century-old drainage system.

Even with a push toward the east, New Orleans, which is on Lake Pontchartain, will be in the storm surge area, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. He said New Orleans “should be very concerned in terms of track.”

The National Hurricane Center forecast storm surges of up to 11 feet, including 4 to 6 feet in Lake Pontchartrain and 6 feet in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

In eastern New Orleans, drainage canals were lowered in anticipation of torrential rains, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. New Orleans police went on 12-hour shifts, and rescue boats, barricades, backup generators and other equipment were readied, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.

In coastal Mississippi, water spilled onto roads, lawns and docks well before the storm’s arrival. Sally was expected to bring a surge of 10 feet or more.

The town of Kiln, Mississippi, where many homes sit high on stilts along the Jourdan River and its tributaries, was under a mandatory evacuation order, and it appeared most residents obeyed. Many of them moved their cars and boats to higher ground before clearing out.

Michael “Mac” Mclaughlin, a 72-year-old retiree who moved to Kiln a year ago, hooked his boat up to his pickup truck to take to his son’s house in another part of Mississippi before heading to New Orleans to ride out Sally there with his girlfriend.

“It would be dumb to stay here,” Mclaughlin said. He said his home was built in 2014 to withstand hurricanes, “but I just don’t want to be here when the water’s that deep and be stranded. That wouldn’t be smart.”

In the Venetian Isles section of eastern New Orleans, Willie Harris, a meter reader for the city, said he was on standby for clearing drains to prevent backups that could cause flooding. He said he and his fiancee had plenty of food and water and would ride out the hurricane at home. Some residents parked their cars on their lawns in a sure sign a storm was expected.

On Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura hit in southwestern Louisiana along the Texas line, well west of New Orleans, tearing off roofs and leaving large parts of the city of Lake Charles uninhabitable. The storm was blamed for 32 deaths in the two states, the vast majority of them in Louisiana.

More than 2,000 evacuees from Hurricane Laura remain sheltered in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans-area hotels, Gov. John Bel Edwards 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, like 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

Other Gulf Coast states urged residents to prepare for Sally.

In Jackson, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the hurricane could dump up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain in the southern part of the state. Shelters opened, but officials urged people who are evacuating to stay with friends or relatives or in hotels, if possible, because of the coronavirus.

People in shelters will be required to wear masks and other protective equipment, authorities said.

“Planning for a Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane is always complicated,” Reeves said. “Planning for it during 2020 and the life of COVID makes it even more challenging.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed beaches and called for evacuations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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