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Tropical Weather

Sally Drops 'Incredible Rainfall Totals' On Alabama And Florida

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., just west of the Florida border, around 5:45 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., just west of the Florida border, around 5:45 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Updated at 9 a.m. ET

Hurricane Sally is bringing 100 mph winds and the threat of historic flooding to southeastern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle, after making landfall as a Category 2 storm Wednesday morning. Some isolated areas in its path could see nearly 3 feet of rain.

"Winds have ripped at buildings and rising floodwaters forced people to their rooftops for rescue," NPR's Debbie Elliott reports from Gulf Shores, Ala. "The slow-moving storm dumped torrential rainfall ahead of landfall, and a storm surge more than 5 feet sent waves washing through homes in Orange Beach."

Sally's eye made landfall near Gulf Shores, just west of the Florida border, around 5:45 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm, which is creeping along at only 3 mph, will bring "catastrophic and life-threatening flooding" to parts of the north-central Gulf Coast, the agency says.

The hurricane has already soaked and flooded parts of the Gulf Coast, as it meandered slowly along and dithered, heading first northwest and then north and now north-northeast. Now, it's bringing the full force of its winds and rains to coastal areas like Pensacola — parts of which are experiencing very strong winds and flooding.

The storm's disastrous effects are expected to include "considerable roof damage to sturdy buildings" and large trees snapped off at their base, the local National Weather Service office says. It warns, "Damage accentuated by airborne projectiles. Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks."

"This will be a long duration event," the National Weather Service office in Mobile, Ala., said on Facebook. "Folks along the coast need to continue to hunker down and shelter this morning."

To that, the most-liked reply came from a reader who said simply, "It can hurry up." — a sentiment shared by many along the Gulf Coast.

The rain could quickly overwhelm drainage infrastructure: Sally is expected to drop 8-12 inches through this afternoon, with overall storm totals of 10-20 inches and isolated amounts of 35 inches. The massive amount of water will trigger "moderate to major river flooding," the hurricane center says.

The threat of mass flooding prompted Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to urge residents and tourists along the coast to evacuate earlier this week.

In Florida, Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, is under voluntary evacuation orders, as are several neighboring counties – a list that grew as Sally took a sharper turn toward the east, and away from Louisiana and Mississippi.

While the hurricane's rain and storm surge are expected to pose the most perilous threat to people and property, Sally's winds intensified in the last 12 hours before landfall, from 80 mph at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to 105 mph at landfall.

As of 6 a.m. ET, Dauphin Island, Ala., was reporting sustained winds of 81 mph and gusts up to 99 mph. In Florida, the Pensacola Naval Air Station reported 61 mph winds, with gusts up to 86 mph.

Sally is extending hurricane-force winds outward up to 40 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds for 125 miles.

The hurricane's storm surge could bring from 4-7 feet of water in the worst-hit areas. A storm surge warning is in effect from Dauphin Island to the Walton/Bay County line in Florida.

The storm could also spin off tornadoes as it makes its way across the Florida Panhandle, southern Alabama, and southwestern Georgia.

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