Slow-moving Hurricane Sally expected to pummel Alabama, Mississippi with rain

Hurricane Sally drifted in a slow crawl Tuesday toward the northern Gulf Coast, threatening dangerous storm surge and relentless rainfall that forecasters warned could trigger historic flooding as the storm was expected to hover in the area long after coming ashore.

“It’s going to be a huge rainmaker,” Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University. “It’s not going to be pretty.”

The National Hurricane Center expects Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 130 kilometres per hour when it makes landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm’s sluggish pace made it harder to predict exactly where its centre will strike, though it was expected to reach land near the Mississippi-Alabama state line.

By late Tuesday morning, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Miss., to Navarre, Fla. Rainfall of up 50 centimetres was forecast near the coast. There was a chance the storm could also spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 76 centimetres.

In Orange Beach, Ala., towering waves crashed onshore Tuesday as Crystal Smith and her young daughter, Taylor, watched. They drove more than an hour through sheets of rain and whipping wind to take in the sight.

(CBC News)

“It’s beautiful, I love it,” Crystal Smith said. “But they are high. Hardly any of the beach isn’t covered.”

Capt. Michael Thomas, an Orange Beach fishing guide, was out securing boats and making other last-minute preparations. He estimated up to 13 centimetres of rain had fallen in as many hours.

“I’m as prepared as I can be,” Thomas said.

A couple miles away in Gulf Shores, Ala., waves crashed over the end of the long fishing pier at Gulf State Park. Some roads in the town already were covered with water.

Rains already beginning in some areas

Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said Tuesday that people should continue to take the storm seriously since “devastating” rainfall is expected in large areas. He said people could drown in the flooding.

“This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stewart said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”

An empty vehicle sits in floodwaters in a driveway in Pascagoula, Miss., Tuesday. The low-lying neighbourhood near a marina was overtaken by flooding from rains associated with Hurricane Sally. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald/AP)

The storm was moving at only four km/h early Tuesday afternoon, centred about 165 kilometres south of Mobile, Ala., and 95 kilometres east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Hurricane-force winds stretched 75 kilometres from the centre of the storm.

Forecasters expected Sally to move slowly north Tuesday, with the storm’s centre bypassing the coast of southeastern Louisiana.

After making landfall, Sally was forecast to cause flash floods and minor to moderate river flooding across inland portions of Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas through the rest of the week.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permitted a safe escape. The National Hurricane Center predicted storm surge along Alabama’s coast, including Mobile Bay, could reach 2.1 metres above ground.

“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency in the Panhandle’s westernmost counties, which were being pummelled by rain from Sally’s outer bands early Tuesday. The threat of heavy rain and storm surge was exacerbated by the storm’s slow movement.

Sam Dorsey helps Dianne Fredrick load a sandbag in the back of her truck in Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Tuesday in preparation for Hurricane Sally. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Along the I-10 highway that runs parallel to the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, rain grew heavier Tuesday in places like Gautier and Pascagoula, Miss. Businesses along highway exits appeared to be largely closed.

In Gulfport, Miss., white plastic bags hung over some gas station pumps to signal they were out of fuel. Along a bayou that extended inland from the Gulf, three shrimp boats were tied up as shrimpers and others tried to protect their boats from waves and storm surge. Most boat slips at Gulfport’s marina were empty, and many businesses had metal storm shutters or plywood covering the windows.

Louisiana likely to be spared the worst of storm

U.S. President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and tweeted that residents should listen to state and local leaders.

The threat to Louisiana was easing as officials in some areas reversed evacuation orders that had been issued for areas feared to be at risk of flooding from Sally. In New Orleans, government offices and public school operations were slated to reopen Wednesday.

The southwestern part of the state, particularly Lake Charles, was pummelled by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27. An estimated 2,000 evacuees from that storm are still sheltered in New Orleans, mostly in hotels.

Sally achieved hurricane strength and quickly intensified to a Category 2 storm with 161 km/h winds on Monday, a day which forecasters said was only the second time on record that five tropical cyclones swirled simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971.

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 177 km/h 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 per cent since 1990, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey did in Houston.

Published at Tue, 15 Sep 2020 12:31:43 +0000

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