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Hurricane Sally Predicted To Bring 110-MPH Winds To Gulf Coast On Tuesday

Tropical Storm Sally is edging closer to the Gulf Coast and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall. This view of sunrise over the U.S. Monday morning also shows smoke from massive wildfires in the West.
Tropical Storm Sally is edging closer to the Gulf Coast and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall. This view of sunrise over the U.S. Monday morning also shows smoke from massive wildfires in the West.

Sally is now forecast to fall just short of being a Category 3 hurricane. But flooding poses a huge threat: "Slow movement means more rain," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says.

People along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama are bracing for a hurricane, as Tropical Storm Sally is expected to intensify into a hurricane before making landfall from the Gulf of Mexico. The slow-moving storm is already causing flooding; forecasters say there's more to come.

"Impacts of an extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and torrential rain with flash flooding from Sally will likely begin later today," the National Weather Service says.

The surge could be as high as 11 feet in some areas. The storm will also bring a huge amount of rain — from 8-16 inches, with up to 24 inches in isolated areas of the central Gulf Coast and the western Florida Panhandle.

Forecasters say conditions are too unstable to predict where the storm will arrive; current projections show Sally coming ashore between New Orleans, La., and Gulfport, Miss. The predicted track has shifted eastward in the past 24 hours, bringing a measure of relief to people in southwestern Louisiana, which is still recovering from Hurricane Laura's arrival in late August.

As of Monday morning, Sally was about 115 miles east-southeast of the Mississippi River, moving west-northwest at 8 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were 65 mph, around 10 mph below hurricane strength.

The looming hurricane is just one of five tropical cyclones the agency is tracking – tying a record from September of 1971 for the most at one time, according to senior hurricane specialist Eric Blake of the NHC.

Sally is predicted to have maximum sustained winds of up to 85 mph when it arrives, but as with most tropical storms, the massive amount of water it brings will pose a perilous threat, in the form of flooding from its storm surge and heavy rainfall. Heightening that risk, the storm is expected to continue to move slowly, increasing the impact of its rainfall.

"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 says.

A storm surge warning is in effect from Port Fourchon, La., to the Alabama -Florida Border, including several lakes and Mobile Bay. A hurricane warning is in effect from Morgan City, La., (west of New Orleans) to the Mississippi-Alabama Border.

Sally's effects are already being felt in Florida, where it will likely continue to create flash floods across Florida's peninsula, the hurricane center says. The storm is also adding to major flooding that is already happening across western and central Florida, the agency says.

Parts of Mississippi and Alabama will also see the risk of significant flash and urban flooding through the middle of the week, the NHC says.

"Life threatening surf and rip currents have begun along our beaches this morning," the NWS office in Mobile, Ala., says. "Waves will continue to increase throughout the day and DOUBLE RED flags are flying at all of our beaches. Stay out of the water!"

"The window of time you have left to get ready is quickly closing," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told residents Sunday night. Edwards declared a state of emergency over the weekend; he has also asked President Trump to declare a federal emergency.

"The storm is expected to impact New Orleans, where the state is currently housing more than 12,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees in hotels," members station WWNO reports.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.