Sally roars through Gulf, forecast to strengthen to hurricane before striking coast

Tropical Storm Sally moves west-northwestward through the Gulf of Mexico in this NOAA NESDIS STAR GOES East satellite photo taken Sunday, Sept. 13. The storm is expected to strengthen to a hurricane on Monday, and make landfall along the northern Gulf Coast overnight Monday. Credit: NOAA

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings were in effect Sunday for a swath of the northern Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Sally gathered strength before she’s projected to make landfall as a hurricane late Monday or early Tuesday.

“With very warm water across the northeastern Gulf and relatively light vertical wind shear, Tropical Storm Sally is expected to have enough time to strengthen” before reaching the coast, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty said.

Sally could strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall somewhere between southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi-Alabama border, the Hurricane Center said.

Gusts in some areas could reach 120 mph, AccuWeather said. Widespread wind gusts of 40 mph to 60 mph were expected from the Florida Panhandle to eastern Louisiana. Gusts that strong already were blasting some areas Sunday.

The National Weather Service issued hurricane and tropical storm warnings for  southeastern Louisiana, coastal Mississippi and Alabama, and part of the Florida Panhandle.

“Life-threatening storm surge, torrential rainfall, and damaging winds is expected to move into the area late Monday and continue for the better part of Tuesday before improving Wednesday morning,” the Weather Service said.

Sunday morning, the storm was centered 135 miles west of St. Petersburg, Florida, and about 280 miles east-southeast of the mouth of Mississippi River. It was moving west-northwestward at 12 mph, with maximum sustained winds of about 60 mph.

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Sally comes two weeks after Hurricane Laura carved a path of destruction through Louisiana as the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in the state.

“This, when combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, can make us all weary,” Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted. “I implore Louisianans to take their preparations seriously.”

Edwards declared a state of emergency. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who noted that the city is providing shelter to some people left homeless by Laura, ordered a mandatory evacuation for areas outside of the city’s levee system, effective at 6 p.m. local time Sunday. 

“Prepare today,” Cantrell said Sunday. “Gather emergency supplies including food, water and medication for at least three days.”

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Sally is forecast to whip up a powerful storm surge of as much as 7-11 feet for parts of Louisiana and coastal Mississippi, with the highest potential along the east-facing portions of southeastern Louisiana.

South Florida took the early brunt of Sally’s power Saturday, soaking the southern Florida Keys. Between 9 and 12 inches of rain fell between Saturday morning and Sunday morning, prompting a flood advisory.

Key West reported a little more than 9 inches at midnight, its fifth highest daily total. That included a one-hour total of almost 4 inches Saturday night. The National Weather Service office in Miami reported about 3 inches of rain in Florida Gardens in Palm Beach County on Saturday. 

The hurricane season has been among the most active in history. Sally is the earliest named “S-Storm” to form in the Atlantic Ocean basin, beating out 2005’s Hurricane Stan, which was named on Oct. 2.

USA TODAY Hurricane Tracker

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