Hurricane Sally grew to a Category 2 storm Monday afternoon as the slow-moving, rain-laden system was on track to make landfall near the Mississippi Gulf Coast early Wednesday morning, with tropical storm conditions possible for Southwest Mississippi as soon as today.
“Hurricane Sally is headed straight for Mississippi and it is now a Category 2. Make plans to evacuate low-lying areas. Emergency operators are ready to respond. This is the real deal, and it deserves your attention,” Gov. Tate Reeves said in a tweet Monday afternoon.
Sally was about 145 miles southeast of Biloxi on Monday afternoon and had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph while moving west-northwest at about 6 mph toward the coastline — about half as fast as it was moving on Sunday.
“The slowing of the storm, that is concerning. The longer it stays out in the Gulf of Mexico, the higher the likelihood that it continues to grow in size, scope and severity,” Reeves said in a Monday morning press conference.
National Hurricane Center meteorologists were still uncertain Monday where Sally’s center will move onshore.
Sally was tracked Monday morning to hit the dead center of the Mississippi Gulf Coast before turning northeast toward Alabama.
“While this storm has ticked to the east overnight it is still anticipated that we are going to bear the brunt of this storm,” Reeves said. “Regardless of this event, we are going to see significant rainfall.”
Pike, Amite and Walthall counties were under a tropical storm warning. Lincoln, Franklin and Lawrence counties were under a tropical storm watch.
Sally’s jog to the east overnight Sunday reduced the threat to Southwest Mississippi, although its affects will still be felt, with winds of 10-20 mph and accompanying gusts up to 30 mph expected.
Sally is expected to swamp parts of the state with relentless rain for days on end. Areas east of Interstate 55 could see 8 to 16 inches of rain and as much as 20 inches in some areas. Areas west of I-55 are expected to receive about 3 to 7 inches, with higher amounts possible.
The threat of wind could bring significant damage to roofing and siding, as well as porches, awnings, carports and sheds, according to a National Weather Service advisory.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel said the danger of the storm will be from flash flooding, wind gusts and tornadoes, making power outages across the storm path almost certain.
“With that type of combination of weather we can expect a large number of power outages, so individuals need to prepare to be without power for a time,” Michel said. “Pay attention to your areas whether you fall into a Hurricane watch or warning. Whether you fall into the flash flooding or storm surge warnings, pay attention and please take action likewise.”
Forecasters noted that although winds will be worrisome, conditions aren’t as favorable for Sally to spin off tornadoes in Southwest Mississippi as initially feared. Further to the east, however, the threat remained.
Coastal Mississippi was bracing for a deluge of rain and a significant storm surge, and a storm surge warning was extended further east along the coast of the Florida panhandle on Monday afternoon.
Michel also noted that landfall is expected to come at high tide, fueling the potential for a deadly storm surge. Marinas on the coast cleared out craft ahead of Sally’s arrival and officials in coastal Hancock County issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents in low-lying areas and along waterways.
Sally has plenty of company during what has become one of the busiest hurricane seasons in history — so busy that forecasters have almost run through the alphabet of names with two-plus months still to go.
For only the second time on record, forecasters said, five tropical cyclones were swirling simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971.
In addition to Sally, Hurricane Paulette was expected veer out into the North Atlantic with no risk of damage, and tropical storms Teddy and Vicky were both unlikely to pose threats this week. Rene dissipated Monday afternoon.