Hurricane warnings stretch from the mouth of the Pearl River at the Louisiana-Mississippi border to the Florida Panhandle.
NEW ORLEANS (CN) — New Orleans moved out of Hurricane Sally’s path Tuesday morning as the Category 1 storm crept slowly east toward Mississippi and Alabama, prompting calls for evacuation over flash flooding concerns as forecasters predict up to 2 feet of rain.
But even without being inside Sally’s cone, the Big Easy was still under a tropical storm watch Tuesday, in addition to other areas along the southeast Louisiana coastline, and remained under a threat of devastating storm surge and life-threatening flooding together with the Mississippi and Alabama coasts.
New Orleans was forecast over the weekend to be directly in the storm’s path, but since then Sally shifted east. Although the National Hurricane Center warned of “significant” uncertainty as to where the storm will land, the hurricane now appears to be gearing up to make landfall somewhere along the Mississippi-Alabama border by late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Sally reached Category 2 status briefly Monday before dropping back to a Category 1, where it is expected to remain as it makes landfall, forecasters said.
Hurricane warnings as of Tuesday morning stretched from the mouth of the Pearl River at the Louisiana-Mississippi border to Navarre, Florida, located in the northwest Panhandle.
The region could start to see effects from the storm such as life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and flash flooding on Tuesday, the hurricane center said, with extreme flash flooding likely through Wednesday along portions of the northern Gulf Coast.
More than 24 hours ahead of making landfall, Sally was already churning high waters and bringing floodwaters to areas along its path. On Monday afternoon, emergency workers in Dauphin Island, Alabama – 40 miles south of Mobile and 150 miles east of New Orleans – rescued 15 people from cars stuck in the sand as they attempted to flee the island. An infant was among those rescued, according to an Associated Press report.
“Historic flooding is possible with extreme life-threatening flash flooding likely through Wednesday along and just inland of the central Gulf Coast from the western Florida panhandle to far southeastern Mississippi,” according to a hurricane center forecast discussion.
“It is still too early to determine where Sally’s center will move onshore given the uncertainty in the timing and location of Sally’s northward turn near the central Gulf Coast,” the forecast cautioned.
Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, predicted the center of the storm would move somewhere near the coast of southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday on its way north, where it will make landfall sometime between late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Stewart said the hurricane is expected to bring “devastating” rainfall to certain areas.
“This is going to be historic flooding along with historic rainfall,” she said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”
Sally had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph as of 7 a.m. Tuesday and was crawling slowly northwest at around 2 mph, about 65 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm is expected to pick up strength throughout the day.
New Orleans, the city that was inundated by Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago and lost 1,800 people, many of them to floodwaters, was out of Sally’s path by Monday night, but the city is still bracing for heavy rain.
“Sally will produce a deadly duo of human-height storm surge and a foot or more of rainfall in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,” the Weather Channel said. “The highest storm surge of 7 to 11 feet is expected from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, including Lake Borgne.”
Forecasters are also keeping track of Hurricane Paulette, Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky and three disturbances in the Atlantic that may or may not turn into something more. Tropical Depression Rene unraveled Monday afternoon.