PENSACOLA, Fla. – Hurricane Sally made landfall early Wednesday along the Gulf Coast as a Category 2 storm, hammering the area with rains that turned streets into rivers and winds that toppled power lines and battered homes and businesses.
Telephone polls were toppled, roofs torn of homes and streets turned to rivers as Sally inched inland after making landfall at about 5:45 a.m. ET in Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles west of the Florida border. Hours later the storm, forecast to dump up to 35 inches of rain on some areas, was still blasting sustained winds of 100 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Almost 500,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. Those numbers were expected to rise as Sally moved deeper inland.
Live updates: Pensacola gets 30 inches of rain; ‘catastrophic flooding is unfolding’ in Alabama, FloridaMore than 2 feet of rain was measured near Naval Air Station Pensacola – with one spotter reporting 30 inches, the National Weather Service in Mobile/Pensacola said. And it was still raining.
“The big issue is the forward speed of the system,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Isaac Longley. “When tropical systems are barely moving, that’s when you deal with big time issues. Sally is barely moving, and we are going to see crazy high rainfall across a good portion of the Southeast.”
Social media posts from the Gulf Coast showed trees falling, street signs swaying and cars awash in high water.
In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, Public Safety Director Jason Rogers said eight high-water rescue vehicles and swift water rescue teams were responding to numerous calls for help.
“We are making rescues right now,” Rogers said.
A tornado watch was issued for parts of Alabama, Florida and Georgia until Wednesday evening.
Through this afternoon, Sally will produce additional rainfall totals of 8 to 12 inches with localized higher amounts possible along the central Gulf Coast from west of Tallahassee, Florida, to Mobile Bay, Alabama, the weather service said. The storm is forecast to move inland across southeastern Alabama on Wednesday night, dumping “life threatening” rainfall over portions of the Gulf Coast, Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama.
Rain totals of 10 to 20 inches are expected but could balloon too 35 inches in some areas. Heavy rainfall also is forecast Wednesday night and Thursday over portions of central and southern Georgia, the weather service said.
There’s only one name left on the 2020 list of hurricane names. Next up: The Greek alphabet.
Sally could produce up to 7 feet of storm surge across Alabama’s coastline from the Mississippi border to Florida border, forecasters said. Isolated tornadoes could also occur Wednesday across portions of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, according to the Hurricane Center.
Sally could also dump up to a foot of rain along pockets of southeastern Mississippi, southern and central Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas.
Sally is forecast to turn northeastward and move across the Southeast through Friday. Southern and central Alabama to central Georgia could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches.
“Significant flash and urban flooding is likely, as well as widespread minor to moderate flooding on some rivers,” the weather service said.
Western South Carolina into western and central North Carolina can expect up to 4 to 6 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 9 inches. Southeast Virginia could get 2 to 5 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 7 inches.
President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday. States of emergency were also issued in Florida counties along the western part of the Panhandle, and in Alabama.
Sally will be the eighth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year — the most through Sept. 16 in recorded history, surpassing the seven storms of 1916, Klotzbach said. The record for most continental U.S. landfalls in a single Atlantic season is nine, also set in 1916.
Meanwhile, Teddy has rapidly intensified into a hurricane and is forecast to become a catastrophic Category 4, possibly reaching Bermuda this weekend.
Contributing: Jim Little, Annie Blanks and Jonathan Tully, Pensacola News Journal; Sarah Ann Dueñas and Nate Chute, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press