Hurricane Sally: The wait along the Gulf Coast for landfall continues as flood threat grows
Hurricane Sally's biggest threat to the Gulf Coast is not the wind, but the water.
It is the dangerous storm surge, the historic flash flooding and the hours of rainfall that make the slow-moving cyclone's trudge toward shore a menace. Coastal communities from southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle could be soaked by these damaging and life-taking conditions.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed the beaches and urged those in low lying, flood-prone areas to get out before Sally makes landfall. The hurricane was expected to hit late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
"Having once lived in Mobile, I'm well aware that those who live on the Gulf Coast are all too familiar with Mother Nature's wrath," Ivey said during a Tuesday morning news conference. "We still hope and pray that Sally will not bring that type of pain and heartache, but my fellow Alabamians, Hurricane Sally is not to be taken for granted."
She warned of Sally's potential to inflict major damage along Alabama's coast as well as further inland.
National Weather Service meteorologist John De Block, who described Sally's crawl as the "speed of a child in a candy shop," said rising waters will struggle to flow downstream.
"You should be taking those preparatory actions now, getting to higher ground, a safer place," De Block said during the news conference. "The saying the National Weather Service has is, 'Hide from the wind, run from the water.' And so now is the time to run from the water."
State and local water rescue teams are in position along the Mississippi coast.
"We do expect conditions to deteriorate today," Earl Etheridge, director of Jackson County Emergency Services, said Tuesday.
His biggest fear is if Hurricane Sally brings an onslaught of thunderstorms and torrential rain. This happened in 2005 when they had to perform 425 rescues after 25 inches of rain fell during Hurricane Issac. As of Tuesday morning, Etheridge only expected 10 inches of rain to show up with Sally.
"Once we get 12 to 15 inches of rain, that's when we have problems," Etheridge said. "Hopefully, if the storm continues to track off to the east, those numbers will drop, but that remains to be seen."
The ever-changing Hurricane Sally is keeping meteorologists and public officials across the Gulf Coast on their toes.
With shifts in the storm, it seems that this time Louisiana may get a reprieve from taking the brunt of the storm.
The state is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which hit about three weeks ago. Thousands are still displaced, without power or clean drinking water.
"It appears that our prayers have been answered this morning," St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said in a video update Tuesday morning on social media. "We pray for those who will be impacted by this storm, but it appears that it is going to go to the Alabama coast rather than to Pascagoula."
But residents should not get too comfortable. On Tuesday, there was water over the road outside the St. Bernard Parish levee system and hurricane season is not over, McInnis said.
The end is still a couple of months out and this storm season is already hyperactive. On Tuesday, Sally had company in the Atlantic Basin where three other named tropical cyclones — Paulette, Teddy and Vicky — are churning.
Hurricane Sally is the earliest "S" named storm on record and there is only a "W" name left this season. Once the name Wilfred is claimed, the subsequent 2020 tropical cyclones will draw their monikers from the Greek alphabet.
Lici Beveridge, Brian Broom, Melissa Brown, Leigh Guidry, Joe Jacquez, Grace Pateras, Amber Roberson contributed to this report.
Reach Holly Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.