Hurricane Sally

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Hurricane Sally
Category 2 hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Sally 2020-09-16 0400Z.jpg
Hurricane Sally intensifying before landfall in Alabama on September 15
FormedSeptember 11, 2020
DissipatedSeptember 18, 2020
(Remnant low after September 17)
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 105 mph (165 km/h)
Lowest pressure965 mbar (hPa); 28.5 inHg
Fatalities7 total
Damage≥ $5 billion (2020 USD)
Areas affectedThe Bahamas, Cuba, U.S. Gulf Coast, Southeastern United States
Part of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Sally was the first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. state of Alabama since Ivan in 2004. The eighteenth named storm, and seventh hurricane of the extremely active, record breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Sally formed out of an area of disturbed weather which was first monitored over the Bahamas on September 10. The system grew a broad area of low-pressure on September 11, and was designated as a tropical depression at late that day. Early the next day, the depression made landfall at Key Biscayne, and subsequently strengthened into Tropical Storm Sally that afternoon. Moderate northwesterly shear prevented significant intensification for the first two days, but convection continued to grow towards the center and Sally slowly intensified. On September 14, a center reformation into the center of the convection occurred, and data from a hurricane hunter reconnaissance aircraft showed that Sally rapidly intensified into a strong Category 1 hurricane. It further intensified into a Category 2 hurricane that evening. However, an increase in wind shear and upwelling of colder waters weakened Sally slightly back down to Category 1 on September 15. Despite this increase in wind shear, it unexpectedly re-intensified, reaching Category 2 status again early on September 16 before making landfall at peak intensity at 09:45 UTC on September 16 near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 km/h).[1] The storm rapidly weakened after landfall, becoming a remnant low early the next day.

Numerous watches and warnings were issued in anticipation of the imminent approach of Sally and several coastline counties and parishes on the Gulf Coast were evacuated. In South Florida, heavy rain led to localized flash flooding while the rest of peninsula saw continuous shower and thunderstorm activity due to asymmetric structure of Sally. The storm made landfall on Gulf Shores, Alabama, on the 16 year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan making landfall in the same location in 2004. The area between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, took the brunt of the storm with widespread wind damage, storm surge flooding, and over 20 inches (510 mm) of rainfall. Several tornadoes also occurred as well. Preliminary damage totals are estimated to be at least $5 billion.[2]

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

At 00:00 UTC on September 10, the NHC began to monitor an area of disturbed weather over the Bahamas for possible development.[3] Over the next two days, convection rapidly increased, became better organized, and formed a broad area of low-pressure on September 11.[4] At 21:00 UTC, the system had organized enough to be designated as Tropical Depression Nineteen.[5] At 06:00 UTC on September 12, the depression made landfall at Key Biscayne, with winds of 35 mph (56 km/h) and a pressure of 1007 mbar (29.74 inHg).[6] Shortly after moving into the Gulf of Mexico, the system strengthened into Tropical Storm Sally at 18:00 UTC the same day and became the earliest 18th named Atlantic storm, shattering the previous record set by Hurricane Stan in 2005 by 20 days.[7] As Sally moved north-northwestard, northerwesterly shear from a nearby upper-level low caused the system to have a sheared appearance, but it continued to strengthen as it gradually moved north-northwestward.[8] As shear relaxed some, a huge burst of convection and a center reformation caused Sally to rapidly intensify into a hurricane by 16:00 UTC on September 14.[9] It later intensified into a Category 2 hurricane three hours later, although its pressure had risen to 987 mb.[8]

Hurricane Sally approaching the northern Gulf Coast on the afternoon of September 15.

This increase in strength did not last long as six hours later, a slight increase in wind shear and upwelling of colder waters caused by the storm's slow motion weakened Sally back to a Category 1 storm early the next day.[8] Despite its weakening, Sally began to develop a ragged eye, as shown on radar imagery, although it was open on its southern side.[10] Sally continued to slowly weaken as it slowed down tremendously and meandered first before turning northward, moving at only 2 mph (3.2 km/h).[11] Although its pressure continued to fall, hurricane hunter aircraft reported that wind speeds continued to drop.[8] As Sally approached the coast, however, its eye quickly became better defined and it abruptly began to reintensify.[12] By 05:00 UTC on September 16, the storm had reintensified back into a Category 2 hurricane and was still strengthening.[13] At around 09:45 UTC, the system made landfall at peak intensity near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with winds of 105 mph (165 km/h) and a pressure of 965 mbars (28.50 inHg).[1][14] Sally's eye quickly disappeared as the storm rapidly weakened while it moved slowly inland. It was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane at 13:00 UTC and to a tropical storm at 18:00 UTC.[15][16] It further weakened to a tropical depression at 03:00 UTC on September 17 before degenerating into a remnant low at 15:00 UTC.[17][18]

Preparations[edit]

Tropical Depression Nineteen shortly before formation on September 11.

Due to the possibility of the storm making landfall as a tropical storm, a tropical storm watch was issued for the coast of Southeastern Florida from south of Jupiter Inlet to north of Ocean Reef when advisories were first issued at 21:00 UTC on September 11.[5] At 03:00 UTC on September 12, another tropical storm watch was issued for the Florida panhandle from the Ochlockonee River to the Okaloosa/Walton County line.[19] That same day, numerous storm surge, tropical storm, and hurricane watches were then issued for a large portion of the US Gulf Coast east of New Orleans at 21:00 UTC, three hours after Sally was named.[7][20] Many of these watches were then upgraded to warnings at 09:00 UTC on September 13 with more watches and warnings issued in the hours that followed.[21][22] Several tornado, flash flood, and flood watches were issued.[23]

States of emergency were declared in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in preparation for Sally's arrival.[24][25][26] Emergencies were also declared in the East Baton Rouge and St. Bernard parishes in Louisiana and Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida as well as New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida.[27][28][29][30][31]

Louisiana[edit]

The mayor of New Orleans issued an evacuation for the unleaved area of the city due to storm surge while the governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency for the entire state, which was still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Laura just three weeks earlier.[24] Several parishes and areas were put under mandatory evacuation orders including all of St. Charles Parish, and parts of Orleans Parish, Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parish.[32] Shelters were opened while public school and university classes were cancelled throughout southeastern Louisiana for September 15.[33] FEMA declared that they will be bringing additional resources to Louisiana for the storm's aftermath and not diverting resources away from Hurricane Laura's relief efforts.[33] Lakeshore Drive along Lake Pontchartrain was closed before the storm as well.[23]

Mississippi[edit]

U.S. Coast Guard preparing to launch rescue boats for Sally's impacts.

A state of emergency was declared on Sunday night, September 13, 2020.[34] Mississippi governor Tate Reeves urged residents to prepare for Sally, which he said could produce up to 20 inches (51 cm) of rain in the southern part of the state. Some shelters were opened, although officials urged people who were evacuating to stay with friends, relatives, or in hotels, if possible, because of the coronavirus.[35] Mandatory evacuations were ordered for parts of Harrison County and Hancock County.[33][32]

Alabama[edit]

Alabama governor Kay Ivey closed all beaches on the coast and called for evacuations of low-lying and flood prone areas.[35] Additionally, Dauphin Island mayor Jeff Collier strongly encouraged all people to evacuate the west end after water started to encroach on the main roadway.[36] A state of emergency was declared by governor Kay Ivey on Monday September 14, 2020 as public schools and university classes were either cancelled or moved online in anticipation of the storm.[37]

Impact[edit]

The reintensification and sudden track to the east by Sally prior to landfall caught many by surprise. Additionally, its slow movement caused coastal areas between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, to be in the northern eyewall for hours. Over 500,000 customers in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia lost power and parts of I-10, including the Escambia Bay Bridge, were shut down.[38] Widespread tornado, special marine, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warnings were issued, including several flash flood emergencies.[39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46]

Florida[edit]

People after being rescued by a Coast Guard response team near Navarre, Florida.

Due to the asymmetrical structure of Sally, almost all of Florida saw continuous shower and thunderstorm activity starting on September 12. A low-topped supercell in the outer rainbands of Sally prompted a tornado warning east of Tampa near Sebring on September 12.[47] The next day, another storm prompted two tornado warnings in southwestern Lee County.[48] Several special marine warnings were also issued for the Florida coast due to possible waterspouts.[49][50] There was also a tornado reported in Marianna.[51] Sally caused heavy rainfall in South Florida and the Florida Keys, with nearly 8.5 inches (220 mm) falling over Marathon, over 10 inches (250 mm) in Key West and peaking at 12 inches (300 mm) in Lower Matecumbe Key. Tropical storm-force gusts were reported in portions of the Miami metropolitan area.[52]

The Panhandle area suffered the brunt of the storm in Florida. In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, the sheriff kept police deputies out helping residents "as long as physically possible". Tiger Point saw 36 inches (91 cm) of rain, while Bellview saw 30 inches (76 cm). In Pensacola itself, over 24 inches (61 cm) of rain fell and storm surge flooding reached 5.6 feet (1.7 m), the third highest surge ever recorded in the city.[23] Many streets were flooded and several parked cars were totaled when water got into their engines. Late on September 15, eight barges in the Pensacola Bay broke loose due to heavy surf. Five of the barges washed up near downtown while the sixth was involved in another collision. The seventh lodged itself underneath the Garcon Point Bridge while the final one became lodged underneath the Pensacola Bay Bridge, causing the bridge to be temporally closed.[53][54] The next morning, a crane fell onto the same bridge, destroying a portion of the roadway.[55] The Florida Department of Transportation was unable to assess any possible damage to the bridge due to ongoing high winds.[53] A water main break occurred in nearby Pensacola Beach, causing officials to advise residents to fill their bathtubs with water.[56] The city of Panama City reported releases of raw sewage from several locations due to flooding from Hurricane Sally, prompting The Florida Department of Health to issue advises against swimming in Panama City until further notice.[57] In Pensacola, a 27-year-old boater went missing and was later presumed dead when he left his home in a 12-foot jon, in an attempt to find his mother's pontoon boat that became untethered in the strong currents and whipping winds brought on by the hurricane. A second person in Pensacola also died after succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor generator use.[58]

Mississippi[edit]

Sally brought flooding to Mississippi, especially in Jackson County. At the peak of the storm, more than 10,000 people were without power. Pascagoula police reported downed power lines and traffic lights in the city and a power outage on the eastern side of the city.[59]

Alabama[edit]

Hurricane Sally shortly after landfall as seen on radar

Continuous onshore flow from Sally caused storm surge flooding to occur on Dauphin Island beginning early on September 14.[36] Two unoccupied riverboat casinos in Bayou La Batre near Mobile broke loose due to the constant wave action with one of them hitting a dock.[60] Fort Morgan, Alabama reported a wind gust of 121 miles per hour (195 km/h) while Mobile reported a wind gust of 83 miles per hour (134 km/h). Major structural damage was recorded at the landfall point in Gulf Shores as well as Mobile. A pier in Gulf Shores that was destroyed in Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was partially destroyed again by storm surge from Sally just days after it had reopened following renovations. There were also several reports of damage to condos in the Gulf Shores with a few being destroyed.[23] Meanwhile, in Downtown Mobile, a street light snapped, swinging wildly on its cable.[53] A gas station was destroyed in Spanish Fort, Alabama.[61] [23][56] Several sewage overflows were reported across Mobile County following heavy rain from Hurricane Sally, causing contamination to Dog River and Rabbit Creek.[62] One person was declared dead and one other missing in Orange Beach, an area most impacted by flooding.[63] Another person died in Foley during the storm cleanup process.[64] Over 2,000 broken poles and 4,300 trees on power lines left over 71,000 households and businesses in southern and central Baldwin County without power, representing 95% of the service area of a local electrical cooperative, Baldwin EMC. Only 5 of 22 substations remained in service the day after the storm.[65][66] Two days after landfall, on 18 September, Alabama governor Kay Ivey said in a news conference that 103,000 customers were still without power in Baldwin County, and another 60,000 in Mobile County.[66]

Elsewhere[edit]

The remnants of Sally affecting the Carolinas

The winds from the outer bands of Sally caused the south side of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana to overflow its banks, flooding Lakeshore Drive. However, no serious damage was reported as the storm veered farther east than originally forecast.[23] In Georgia, three tornadoes were confirmed and one person was killed and two others were injured after a large oak tree fell onto two homes and several cars in Atlanta.[67] Tornadoes also occurred in Eastover, South Carolina and Rincon, where trees, homes, sheds, and power lines were damaged.[68] Two other fatalities occurred in metro Atlanta, one in Cobb County where a man lost his life after a slick road caused a driver to lose control of his vehicle and hit the bus stop where the man was waiting at, and another in Gwinnett County where a 71-year-old woman was killed when a tree fell across the roadway, pinning her underneath.[69]

Aftermath[edit]

The storm caused widespread power outages across Baldwin County and over 2,000 power lines were damaged or destroyed. Restoration of power is expected to take several weeks. The cities of Gulf Shores, Foley, Summerdale, and Robertsdale suffered the most extensive damage in Baldwin County.

Due the large amount of damage in the city, a curfew was imposed in Mobile, Alabama, starting on September 16. Immediately after the storm, the Cajun Navy, a nonprofit rescue organization, began surveying damage in Alabama.[53]

The agricultural industry of Alabama, which was already under stress due to COVID-related impacts, suffered another devastating blow with many farmers' fields completely flooded, crops torn apart, and structures destroyed. Strong winds and heavy rainfall devastated crops, leaving many farmers across the state without hopes for a successful harvest.[70]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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