Southwest Mississippi and the Gulf Coast should be on high alert and prepared to ride out Tropical Storm Sally for days on end as the slow-moving rainmaker is expected to soak the state this week, Gov. Tate Reeves said in a news conference Sunday.
“The southwest part of our state is going to be immensely affected,” Reeves said.
The governor declared a state of emergency Sunday as Sally slogged across the Gulf at 12 mph, about 320 miles southeast of New Orleans.
It is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 storm around 8 a.m. Tuesday at Port Sulphur, La.
Reeves said the storm’s winds and rains will be felt in parts of the state as early as Monday.
“This is a very slow moving storm and it is anticipated it will be slow moving once it hits landfall,” he said.
Sally is expected to slow even further after landfall, turn to the northeast and stall.
“Because of that it may take a day before the actual eye of the storm enters into the southwest portion of Mississippi,” Reeves said.
Sally threatens to swamp parts of south Mississippi, including Hancock and Pearl River counties, with 15-20 inches of rain.
Southwest Mississippi and the Highway 98 corridor between McComb and Hattiesburg also are likely to be affected, especially around Tylertown and Columbia, where the eye is expected to pass.
The governor said National Hurricane Center forecasters are warning about the potential for Sally to produce tornadoes.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel noted that landfall is expected to occur at high tide, which will fuel storm surge.
“You’re going to have a large amount of storm surge. There’s going to be a lot of rain,” he said.
State officials are preparing for water rescues and flash flooding, Michel said.
Reeves said no evacuation orders have been issued but that could change as soon as Monday morning, “depending on what this storm does over the next 12 hours or so.”
He said evacuation shelters would be available for those who need them but urged anyone who must evacuate to try to stay with friends or family who are out of harm’s way due to social distancing restrictions that will be in place at shelters.
“Clearly COVID-19 complicates sheltering,” Reeves said. “We are encouraging those who can go to a cousin’s house or a loved one’s house, it would be very helpful for you and for us in this COVID-19 world,” Reeves said.
And even though Sally is likely to be just a Category 1, he urged Mississippians to take it seriously.
“Do not take this storm for granted. A lot can happen between now and our next updates in the morning. This storm could become more powerful than a Category1,” Reeves said, noting that Category 4 Hurricane Laura, which recently devastated parts of Louisiana and Texas, was initially forecast to be no stronger than a Category 2 storm.