Hurricane Sally Threatens Catastrophic Flooding in Gulf Coast
“Historic and catastrophic flooding” is hitting the Gulf Coast today as Hurricane Sally made landfall along the border of Alabama and Florida, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns.
Overnight, Sally strengthened into a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, while the storm as a whole is moving slowly northeast at just 3 mph—dumping extremely heavy rainfall as it crawls along. The Hurricane Center predicts up to 30 inches of rain in some places. Near Pensacola, Florida, up to two feet of rain have fallen already.
330am - Very strong winds continue to push onshore with the eye of Hurricane #Sally this morning. This will be a LONG DURATION event. Folks along the coast need to continue to hunker down and shelter this morning. pic.twitter.com/q866HyNFAD— NWS Mobile (@NWSMobile) September 16, 2020
Flash flood warnings were issued for Pensacola and other nearby areas on early Wednesday, and a tornado watch has been issued for some communities in the hurricane’s path.
According to the NHC, “This will be a PROLONGED event given the slow movement of Sally.” The center warned of life-threatening storm surges along the coast, strong winds, and heavy flooding.
In a briefing on Tuesday evening, NHC Director Ken Graham said, “Water is the leading cause of fatalities in these tropical systems historically, and that’s what we have here.” Strong connective bands—meteorological tails that are follow behind the main storm—are feeding more moisture into the hurricane, the National Weather Service warned this morning, so rainfall won’t let up anytime soon.
9/16/20 9:14am EDT Radar Update - The continuous moisture feed by these very strong convective bands from #HurricaneSally will unfortunately not be letting up any time soon. Rainfall amounts are piling up in the Panhandle and southeast AL. Please be safe. pic.twitter.com/2F6OtDq7TC— NWS Tallahassee (@NWSTallahassee) September 16, 2020
Residents and tourists along the Alabama coast have been urged to evacuate, and mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for some counties in Mississippi, NPR reported.
Slow-moving hurricanes have historically been recipes for disaster. According to analysis from Forbes, the pace of Hurricane Sally calls to mind similar activity from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018, both of which stalled over land, dumping huge amounts of rain in a limited area, producing flooding disasters.
Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in September 2018, becoming one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes ever to impact the Carolinas, causing at least 51 deaths and record flooding, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Hurricane Harvey produced more than 60 inches of rain, lingering over Houston, Texas, for days. Read more about how healthcare security professionals in Houston kept up with shifting crises and demands in “Shelter from the Storm.”