PENSACOLA, Fla. – Hurricane Sally made landfall early Wednesday along Alabama’s Gulf Coast as a drenching, Category 2 storm amid warnings of historic, life-threatening flooding.
Strong winds continued to batter the coast as Sally inched inland from Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles west of the Florida border. 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,” Stewart said.
Sally was crawling along at about 3 mph, soaking everything in her path while blasting sustained winds of 105 mph. Almost 400,000 homes and businesses were without power in Alabama and Florida. Those numbers were expected to rise as Sally moved deeper inland.
The storm 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, Stewart said. 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.
There’s only one name left on the 2020 list of hurricane names. Next up: The Greek alphabet.
Sally could produce up to 7 feet of storm surge 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.
Sally is forecast to turn northeastward and move across the Southeast through Friday. Southern and central Alabama to central Georgia could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches.
“Significant flash and urban flooding is likely, as well as widespread minor to moderate flooding on some rivers,” the weather service said.
Western South Carolina into western and central North Carolina can expect up to 4 to 6 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 9 inches. Southeast Virginia could get 2 to 5 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 7 inches.
President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday. States of emergency were also issued in Florida counties along the western part of the Panhandle, and in Alabama.
“This is not worth risking your life,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday after closing beaches and telling residents living along the Gulf to evacuate.
Meanwhile, Teddy has rapidly intensified into a hurricane and is forecast to become a catastrophic Category 4, possibly reaching Bermuda this weekend.
Contributing: Annie Blanks and Jonathan Tully, Pensacola News Journal; Sarah Ann Dueñas and Nate Chute, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press