Sally rapidly intensified to Category 2 hurricane Monday, edging toward the coastline of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, where it is forecast to push ashore a “life-threatening” surge of up to 11 feet and unload tremendous rainfall through Wednesday.

The storm is slowly crawling west-northwest toward the Gulf Coast and its assault on the coast will be prolonged. Before landfall between Tuesday and Wednesday, Sally may intensify further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

While its strong winds will get plenty of attention, potentially bringing 70 to 100 mph winds between the coasts of southeast Louisiana and Alabama, this storm’s greatest threat is water. This part of the Gulf Coast is extremely vulnerable to storm surge flooding, which refers to the storm-driven rise in water above normally dry land at the coast.

Due to its slow forward speed as it approaches the coast, heavy rains will deluge areas from southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle with excessive rainfall, up to two feet in some areas. This could cause widespread, major flooding, and if heavy downpours continue for many hours in New Orleans, they could challenge the capacity of the city’s pumping system.

Here are some significant developments:
  • Sally intensified from a strong tropical storm Monday morning into a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane as of 8 p.m. eastern. Additional strengthening is possible with winds forecast to peak around 110 mph prior to landfall.
  • The storm track shifted slightly east on Monday, with landfall projected now projected over coastal Mississippi rather than southeast Louisiana. Hurricane warnings were extended east over the western Florida Panhandle.
  • The timing of landfall is more uncertain than usual, but is currently projected for Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
  • Tropical storm conditions are expected to develop Monday night or early Tuesday morning in coastal Alabama, Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana.
12:15 a.m.
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Sally’s outer rain bands moving over Florida Panhandle as water levels rise

By Jason Samenow

At 8 p.m., weather radar showed the outer rain bands of Hurricane Sally pivoting onto the coast of the Florida Panhandle. A zone of heavy rain spanned from near Port St. Joe to Panama City.

Along the Gulf Coast, seas were building with ocean water running up to dunes and waves splashing over docks.

The National Hurricane Center projects tropical-storm-force winds will first arrive overnight Monday into Tuesday morning from extreme northeast Louisiana across coastal Mississippi and Alabama and into the western Florida Panhandle.

Here are some images from late afternoon and early evening along the Gulf Coast:

12:01 a.m.
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Tracking Hurricane Sally

By Jason Samenow

At 8 p.m. Eastern, Sally was located 135 miles southeast of Biloxi, Miss., and was crawling west-northwest at 5 mph. The Category 2 hurricane’s maximum sustained winds were 100 mph, a 35 mph increase from the 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory.

Hurricane-force-winds expanded 25 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward about 125 miles.

11:15 p.m.
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Sally making history in 2020 hurricane swarm

By Jason Samenow

Sally is part of a hyperactive 2020 Atlantic hurricane season in which there have been a record-breaking 20 named storms.

Colorado State University tropical weather researcher Phil Klotzbach tweeted out several very notable statistics about Sally’s place in this very active season:

  • Sally is the seventh hurricane of 2020. Only six other seasons have had so many hurricanes at this point.
  • Sally is the fourth hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico in 2020. Only five other seasons have had at least this many gulf hurricanes by this date.
  • When Sally comes ashore as a hurricane as expected, it will be the fourth to make landfall in the Lower 48 in 2020. This many U.S. landfalls haven’t happened since 2005.
  • Sally may be one of three active hurricanes in the Atlantic on Tuesday. The last time three hurricanes roamed the Atlantic at one time was 2018.
10:20 p.m.
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Biloxi, directly in Sally’s path, prepares for the storm

By Maria Sacchetti

BILOXI, Miss. — This city, home to 46,000 people, eight casinos and Keesler Air Force Base, intensified preparations as the storm tracked closer to Mississippi, issuing a state of emergency Monday and ordering marinas and RV parks to evacuate to higher ground.

Officials also urged residents in low-lying areas to seek shelter and warned them to take extra precautions to prevent spreading the coronavirus. Seawater crept closer to the strip of casinos on US-90 as residents and visitors packed up their campers, hitched their boats to pickup trucks and boarded up windows.

City officials cleared drains and prepared rescue gear in anticipation of heavy rains and storm surges, said Cecilia Dobbs Walton, a Biloxi spokeswoman.

“We do anticipate a lot of flooding,” she said Monday. “Heed the warnings, we tell our people. Just prepare. You’ve been through this before. You’ve been through worse. … Don’t let your guard down.”

The storm shifted as it headed toward the Gulf Coast, casting extra uncertainty into the area. Some last-minute preparations were underway as people boarded up houses or left low-lying areas. The thud of nail guns pierced the air.

“I blocked the windows off and hope for the best,” Tyrone Adams, a part-time courier who turns 57 on Thursday, said as he waited for a friend to drop off a package at a casino. “I can’t stop it. Hope that we don’t get pounded on.”

On Monday, Biloxi had the look of a fun house gone silent. Parking garages stared vacantly. Skies turned gray and winds gusted as the outer bands of the storm fanned the area. MGM Park, a minor league baseball field tucked into the waterfront district, stood empty.

Just before 2 p.m., Bernie and Mary Donlin, a long-married couple whose family home was destroyed in Hurricane Camille in 1969 and again during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, headed into the Boomtown Casino for lunch and to play the slots. Instead a voice came over the intercom saying it was closing early.

The couple said they were not worried about the storm, because they had since moved to higher ground in Biloxi.

“If we made it through Katrina and Camille, this will just be a pain in the behind,” Bernie Donlin, 71, said as the parking lot behind him emptied out.

9:20 p.m.
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Key Hurricane Sally forecast messages from the Hurricane Center

By Andrew Freedman

Hurricane Sally started out the morning as a 60 mph tropical storm and is now a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane. The storm went from having 65 mph sustained winds to 100 mph sustained winds in just six hours. This intensification rate meets the criteria for rapid intensification, a trend seen with many storms in recent years that may be tied in part to human-caused climate change.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update:

  • Landfall timing has slowed down, due to expected weak steering currents in the atmosphere and is now likely Tuesday night or even early Wednesday in coastal Mississippi.
  • Don’t focus on the specific storm center and when and where it will cross the coast. The typical forecast track error at 36 to 48 hours in advance is about 60 to 80 miles, the NHC said. The impacts of this storm will be felt across a broad region, particularly when it comes to rainfall and storm surge flooding.
  • “Dangerous storm surge, rainfall, and wind hazards will extend well away from the center,” the NHC said.
  • The storm surge threat is serious. To use the NHC’s wording, it is “extremely dangerous and life-threatening.”
  • This storm is a slow mover, so it will ramp up slowly from south to north on Tuesday. “Hurricane conditions are expected late tonight or early Tuesday within the Hurricane Warning area in southeastern Louisiana and are expected by late Tuesday and Tuesday night within the Hurricane Warning area along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines and the western Florida Panhandle,” the Hurricane Center said.
  • Rainfall, rainfall, rainfall: A slow-moving tropical weather system is a recipe for a potential flood disaster from rainfall alone. It’s likely that this storm will be remembered for the water it pushes ashore at the coast (storm surge) and the heavy rainfall it spreads inland, which could be more than two feet in some places.
8:00 p.m.
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Damaging winds near 100 mph could accompany Sally’s hit to Gulf Coast

By Matthew Cappucci

Hurricane Sally was crawling toward the Gulf Coast as it rapidly intensified Monday, its winds leaping from 65 mph to 90 mph in just 90 minutes’ time. Some additional strengthening is forecast, and residents of southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and coastal Alabama were preparing for damaging winds. If Sally’s track shifts east, the western Florida Panhandle might also endure high winds.

The National Hurricane Center was forecasting Sally to be a strong Category 2 hurricane as it approached landfall late Tuesday, with gusts near or even topping 100 mph near the coast and just inland.

Assuming no major changes in the track forecast, cities such as Mobile, Ala., and Gulfport and Biloxi in Mississippi could all see hurricane-force winds, including gusts in the 80 to 100 mph range. Those winds may be even worse if Sally’s intensity continues to ramp up.

The strongest winds will occur in the eyewall, the band of intense thunderstorms surrounding the storm’s eye of calm. However, hurricane force winds already extend outward some 25 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out more than 100 miles.

“Protect against life-threatening wind having possible extensive impacts across all of coastal Mississippi and portions of Southeast Louisiana,” the National Weather Service wrote in an alert.

The Weather Service cautioned that the wind could cause “considerable roof damage,” “severely” damage mobile homes, topple large trees and result in widespread power outages.

A few tornadoes are possible as well in the spiral rain bands feeding into Sally’s center.

7:14 p.m.
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Storm surge risk increasing for coastal Mississippi, Alabama

By Matthew Cappucci

With Sally rapidly intensifying on Monday afternoon, the risk of a damaging storm surge was increasing for portions of coastal Mississippi and Alabama, particularly in the vicinity of Mobile Bay in Alabama.

Multiple reliable weather models indicate that the ongoing rapid intensification of Sally would continue, and a strong Category 2 or even low-end Category 3 major hurricane is possible at the time of landfall Tuesday. The official National Hurricane Center forecast is for a high-end Category 2 with 105 mph winds.

That means winds east of the center will blow in from the south, a bad scenario for high waves, coastal flooding and a hazardous storm surge in populated areas.

Mobile Bay is under a storm surge warning, and the National Hurricane Center anticipates that 5 to 8 feet of inundation above normally dry ground is possible if the surge lines up with Tuesday evening’s high tide. Dauphin Island could experience a 6- to 9-foot surge.

Areas at considerable distances inland from the bay also could be inundated because of the low topography.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) issued an order closing all beaches in the state at 3 p.m. on Monday, and recommended the evacuation of flood-prone areas south of Interstate 10.

There is a chance that the subtle eastward shift in the track could acutely reduce the surge anticipated to threaten parts of Louisiana, but it’s still vital that residents heed all warnings up for the area in case the storm wobbles west.

The northern Gulf of Mexico is very prone to storm surge flooding because of the shape of the seafloor, or bathymetry. Because the continental shelf slopes gently, it’s easy for storms to channel water toward the coast, pushing it ashore in large destructive surges.

6:33 p.m.
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Hurricane Sally is sitting over warm Gulf waters, in no hurry to come ashore

By Andrew Freedman

Hurricane Sally is, in the National Hurricane Center’s wording, “meandering” over the north-central Gulf of Mexico, and intensifying as it does so. It was located about 160 miles southeast of Biloxi, Miss., as of 2 p.m. Eastern, and moving west-northwest at just seven miles per hour.

The hurricane center expected it to resume moving more decisively to the west, then northwest and eventually north on Tuesday to cross the coast somewhere between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. But there’s considerable uncertainty about both the storm’s track and intensity, as weak winds in the mid- and upper levels of the atmosphere are allowing the storm to slow to a crawl.

Some computer models take the storm to Category 3 intensity before landfall, which would be an extremely dangerous scenario for areas near and to the east of the storm’s center, due to the threat of storm surge flooding. However, the official forecast does not call for that much intensification.

The rapid intensification of Hurricane Sally, going from a 65-mph tropical storm to a 90-mph hurricane on Monday morning, continues a trend of hurricanes that rapidly intensified close to landfall.

6:10 p.m.
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Swarm of storms in the Atlantic is almost a record

By Matthew Cappucci

Hurricane Sally is hardly the only show in town in the tropical Atlantic.

A swarm of five named systems and two areas to watch are clogging the Atlantic, marking only the second time on record when five tropical cyclones have swirled through the basin simultaneously. Twenty named storms have formed this season, including seven in just the first two weeks of September alone. Meanwhile, Sally is rapidly intensifying as it ominously churns toward the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline as a hurricane.

Paulette, a Category 1 hurricane, lashed Bermuda overnight. Winds gusted up to 117 mph in the hills and near 80 mph at sea level. It is expected to intensify as it draws north and eventually curves out to sea in the coming days.

Teddy, a tropical storm midway between Cabo Verde and the Leeward Islands, is anticipated to blossom into a Category 3 hurricane by mid- to late week as it harmlessly spins over the open Atlantic. That would make it only the second major Atlantic hurricane of the year.

Vicky also formed in the eastern tropical Atlantic on Monday and is likely to be a short-lived storm — although it snags another name off the 2020 naming list, with only one name left for the rest of the season. That means we will have to revert to the Greek alphabet for extra names and begin assigning storms letters such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc.

In addition, Tropical Depression Rene is still chugging along over the central Atlantic, stubbornly surviving despite hostile ambient conditions.

Another two areas to watch are present, including one off Africa and another over the gulf, but development is not expected in the near-term for either.

Read more:

4:50 p.m.
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Hurricane Sally is rapidly intensifying, confirming forecasters’ fears about warm gulf waters

By Matthew Cappucci

Sally became a hurricane at noon Eastern time on Monday, intensifying well ahead of schedule based on forecasts as recently as 11 a.m. The updated intensity was measured by Hurricane Hunter aircraft flying within the strengthening storm.

Its air pressure sharply plummeted Monday morning, a sign that the storm was evacuating air at the upper levels of the atmosphere and allowing surface wind speeds to strengthen.

At the same time, Sally began to develop an eyewall, or a ring of furious 50,000- to 60,000-foot-tall thunderstorms surrounding a relatively calm center.

Prolific lightning rates also were observed, a sign of rapid strengthening. A similar phenomenon was seen with Hurricane Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana last month. Maximum sustained winds were listed at 90 mph, but those winds may become increasingly menacing during the afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center now forecasts Sally to be a Category 2 storm at landfall, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, but there is an outside chance that a Category 3 landfall isn’t out of the question. A Category 3 storm is considered a “major” hurricane.

3:09 p.m.
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The National Hurricane Center’s key message: Beware the surge and flooding rains

By Andrew Freedman

The National Hurricane Center is monitoring a big burst of thunderstorms within Tropical Storm Sally, and reconnaissance aircraft have found that the center of the storm has re-formed to be tucked under these storms. This could help the storm intensify over time since the center is now nestled within some of the strongest thunderstorm activity, rather than displaced from it.

Here are some of the main points from the Hurricane Center’s forecast discussion at 11 a.m. Eastern time, which is meant for consumption by meteorologists but contains important information once translated into non-weatherspeak:

  • There is still a lot of uncertainty about the storm track forecast and where it will come ashore, as well as exactly when. Computer models have been trending east with landfall, which is good news for New Orleans since that city could wind up on the weaker, western side of the storm. However, it’s bad news for Mississippi and Alabama, which may get hit the hardest after the storm sloshes across extreme southeastern Louisiana.
  • Hurricane conditions are expected as soon as tonight in southeastern Louisiana and by late Tuesday along the Mississippi and Alabama coastline.
  • This is not going to be a sprint, but a long slog, as the storm is likely to slow down even further, taking days to come ashore. This gives it time to intensify, but more crucially, time to dump extraordinary amounts of rain on coastal areas and batter the shore with storm-surge flooding.
2:55 p.m.
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Exact track forecast for Sally still coming into focus, less than a day from potential landfall

By Jason Samenow

The official National Hurricane Center forecast brings Sally ashore early Tuesday morning in extreme southeast Louisiana. However, the storm track forecast has greater uncertainty than usual so close to landfall, with the Hurricane Center noting that, “it is too early to determine where Sally’s center will move onshore.”

Early morning simulations from the American (GFS) and European (ECMWF) modeling systems show a large amount of spread in where Sally will cross the coast, ranging from southeast Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle.

Irrespective of exactly where the center comes ashore, the potential for flooding rain and a dangerous storm surge affects a broad zone from southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. That said, the most severe conditions from storm surge and wind do typically occur near and just to the east of where the center comes ashore.

The track uncertainty this close to landfall is unusual and is related to weak steering currents and the storm’s slow rate of speed, along with the fact that its storm center is still organizing.

2:03 p.m.
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‘Dangerous and life-threatening’ storm surge forecast from southeast Louisiana to Florida Panhandle

By Jason Samenow

As Hurricane Sally approaches the northern Gulf Coast and moves ashore, it will push an enormous amount of ocean water toward land creating a “a dangerous and life-threatening storm surge,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

The highest surge of seven to 11 feet is predicted in extreme southeast Louisiana, between the Mouth of the Mississippi River and the Louisiana-Mississippi border. The highest surge typically occurs just to the east of where the center of the storm makes landfall. As there is some uncertainty as to exactly where Sally would come ashore, the zone of greatest surge could shift.

A storm surge warning is in effect from Port Fourchon, La. to the Alabama-Florida border, and includes Lake Pontchartrain and Mobile Bay.

Because Sally is predicted to be a very slow-moving hurricane, water levels could be elevated over multiple tidal cycles.

The National Weather Service predicts “devastating impacts” from the surge, including “widespread deep inundation,” “structural damage to buildings, with many washing away,” the flooding of roads and escape routes, “extreme beach erosion” and “massive damage to marinas, docks, boardwalks, and piers.”

“Locations may be uninhabitable for an extended period,” the Weather Service wrote.

If the maximum surge coincides with high tide, the Hurricane Center is projecting the following water heights above normally dry land based on Sally’s current track forecast:

  • Mouth of the Mississippi River, La. to Ocean Springs, Miss., including Lake Borgne: seven to 11 feet
  • Ocean Springs to Dauphin Island, Ala., including Mobile Bay: six to 9 feet
  • Dauphin Island to Alabama-Florida border: four to seven feet
  • Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas: three to five feet
  • Port Fourchon, La., to Mouth of the Mississippi River: two to four feet
  • Alabama-Florida border to Olkaloosa/Walton County line in Florida: two to four feet
  • Olkaloosa/Walton County line to Chassahowitzka, Fla: one to three feet
  • Burns Point, La. to Port Fourchon: one to two feet

Much of this area is highly susceptible to coastal inundation because of its low elevation above sea level and the gradual slope of the underwater continental shelf. Long-term, human-caused climate change is heightening storm surge risks, making even relatively weak storms a greater danger than just a few decades ago. In addition, land subsidence, or sinking, is also contributing to this effect, particularly in coastal Louisiana.

A mandatory evacuation order was placed outside the zone defended by the storm surge protection system in New Orleans. Evacuations were also ordered for low-lying areas in several parishes in southeast Louisiana and Hancock and Harrison counties in Mississippi. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) recommended evacuations of flood-prone areas south of Interstate 10 in her state.

2:02 p.m.
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Enormous of amounts of rain and flooding predicted over large area along northern Gulf Coast

By Jason Samenow

As Sally crawls along the coast of southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for two to three days, it will unload tremendous amounts of rain and produce flooding, some of which is likely to be substantial.

“Life-threatening flash flooding is possible and widespread minor to isolated major flooding on area rivers is likely along and just inland of the Central Gulf Coast,” the National Hurricane Center wrote as one of its key messages Monday. “Significant flash and urban flooding, as well as widespread minor to moderate river flooding is likely across Mississippi and Alabama through the middle of the week.”

The center’s forecast calls for eight to 16 inches of rain with isolated amounts of 24 inches from southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle close to the coast.

The Weather Service office in Mobile, Ala., warned of “possible devastating impacts” from the flooding. It said rivers and tributaries may “overwhelmingly overflow their banks,” floodwaters could enter numerous structures, and that “numerous evacuations and rescues” may be necessary.

Because the track of Sally has shifted slightly east of previous forecasts, the rainfall projection for New Orleans has dropped some, but the city still expects four to six inches and is under a flash flood watch through Thursday morning. The heaviest amounts are forecast just to its east, but shifts in the storm track remain possible.

The National Weather Service has placed portions of extreme southeast Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and coastal Alabama under a high risk of flash flooding between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, when the heaviest rainfall is expected. Rainfall rates in excess of three inches per hour are possible.

By Wednesday, as the storm moves farther inland, six to 12 inches of rain are projected inland for southeastern Mississippi and Alabama.

Beyond that, “[f]urther heavy rain is then anticipated across portions of eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia and western North Carolina Thursday into Friday,” the center wrote.