PENSACOLA, Fla. – Hurricane Sally made landfall early Wednesday as a drenching, Category 2 storm along Alabama’s Gulf Coast amid warnings of historic, life-threatening flooding.
Strong winds continued to batter the coast as Sally inched inland. Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said the slow-moving storm could dump up to 35 inches of rain in some areas.
“Historic and catastrophic flooding is unfolding,” Steward said.
Almost 400,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama and Florida amid heavy rains, flooding and strong winds. Those numbers are expected to climb through the morning as Sally moves deeper inland.
Sally 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, Stewart said.
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. 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, Stewart said.
Already trees are falling, street signs are swinging and cars are getting stuck in floods in Gulf Shores, Alabama, according to videos posted on social media. More than 300,000 customers are without power in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.
“It’s going to be a huge rainmaker,” said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University. “It’s not going to be pretty.”
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.
Forecasters say Sally could bring 10 to 20 inches of rain from the Florida Panhandle to southeast Mississippi, with some isolated pockets of rain up to 30 inches. The rain along and just inland of the coast could bring “historic life-threatening flash flooding” through Wednesday, the Hurricane Center said.
Up to 7 feet of storm surge was also forecast 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.
As it moves inland, 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.
President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday. “Be ready and listen to State and Local Leaders!” Trump tweeted.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, along the western part of the Panhandle, which already was being pummeled with rain from Sally’s outer bands.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey also issued a state of an emergency closing Alabama’s beaches. The causeway to Dauphin Island, which was already flooding, was closed, and downtown Mobile was nearly deserted. Ivey warned residents living along the Gulf, especially south of Interstate 10 or in low-lying areas, to evacuate if conditions permit.
“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday.
Contributing: Annie Blanks and Jonathan Tully, Pensacola News Journal; Sarah Ann Dueñas and Nate Chute, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press