Hurricane Sally heads toward US Gulf Coast

By Meg Wagner and Judson Jones, CNN

Updated 8:01 p.m. ET, September 15, 2020
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10:42 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

Two disasters are threatening the US today

While Hurricane Sally is pounding the US Gulf Coast will rain today and threatening the area with possible flooding, unprecedented wildfires are ravaging the US West Coast from California to Washington state.

Along the Gulf Coast, forecasters are warning of life-threatening storm surge, including 6 to 9 feet from coastal Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama, and up to 7 feet along the rest of coastal Alabama.

And on the other side of the country, dozens of wildfires are scorching the West Coast. In California alone, since the start of 2020 wildfires in California have burned over 3.2 million acres of land — an area almost the size of Connecticut.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a typical year, fires consume about 500,000 acres in the state — but "this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," she said. And last week in Washington, more acres were burned in the state on a single day than were charred in the past 12 fire seasons, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

While the dual disasters are impacting opposite ends of the country, they may have a common factor: The climate crisis.

Scientist believe global warming is influencing hurricanes in multiple ways — and Hurricane Sally has checked all those boxes. Climate change appears to lead to rapid intensification, the slowing down of hurricanes and increased rainfall, which can make for more problematic storms.

And as the wildfires rage in California, Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have attributed the severity of this season's fires to climate change.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite captured images of the effects of both the wildfires and the Hurricane Sally. Smoke from the West Coast fires have blanketed most of the country, and now can be seen along the Atlantic Coast, close to the hurricanes:

10:10 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

These are some of Sally's main threats to the Gulf Coast, according to forecasters

From CNN's Jason Hanna, Hollie Silverman and Ed Lavandera

Hurricane Sally is churning off the US Gulf Coast, pounding the area with rain ahead of its landfall. But the slow-moving storm may not move over land until tomorrow.

Here are the possible storm impacts that forecasters are warning about:

  • Life-threatening storm surge, including 6 to 9 feet from coastal Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama, and up to 7 feet along the rest of coastal Alabama.
  • Heavy rain and dangerous flash flooding are possible. About 10 to 30 inches of rain are possible by storm's end in southeastern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle. Flash flooding is possible even well inland, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. About 6 to 10 inches of rain could fall in parts of inland Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina though Saturday.
  • Tornadoes are possible through Wednesday, especially in parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters say.
9:46 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

Sally is moving slower than most people walk

Sally is moving at 2 mph as of the 8 a.m. ET update from the National Hurricane Center. That is slower than most humans walk — and that is not necessarily a good thing. 

On average most humans walk about 3 to 4 mph. When a storm comes to a crawl this close to land, as we're seeing with Sally, it allows the storm to send copious amounts of rain on shore for days. 

A 24-hour satellite loop shows just how little the storm has moved. 
A 24-hour satellite loop shows just how little the storm has moved. 

This isn't the first time a storm has moved this slow. Hurricane Harvey drenched Texas for days, Florence did the same to the Carolinas and the slowest moving Atlantic tropical cyclone in history, Dorian, drenched the Bahamas

Rain is already falling from the outer bands of Sally from Naples, Florida, to Biloxi, Mississippi. 

"Historic flooding is possible with extreme life-threatening flash flooding likely through Wednesday," the National Hurricane Center says.

As the hurricane sluggishly moves toward a landfall on the Gulf Coast, it will produce widespread rainfall amounts of 10 to 20 inches. Isolated storm total amounts of 30 inches are possible from western Florida to the southeastern Mississippi coast. 

Gor more reading on why tropical cyclones are slowing down

9:15 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

A satellite image of two Atlantic hurricanes also shows smoke from the West Coast wildfires

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite captured images of the effects of two natural disasters threatening the US.

An image of the US East Coast — where two hurricanes are currently spinning — also showed smoke from the West Coast wildfires that are ravaging California, Oregon and Washington. The smoke has traveled from the Pacific Coast across most of the country.

In the image below, which was taken yesterday, you can see Hurricane Sally approaching the US Gulf Coast. Hurricane Paulette is tracking into the Atlantic off the US East Coast.

Take a look:

9:08 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

Florida Panhandle city declares local state of emergency ahead of Sally

From CNN's Tina Burnside

The City of Pensacola, Florida, has declared a local state of emergency as Hurricane Sally is set to approach parts of the panhandle, according to a release from the city. 

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson issued the declaration yesterday. 

All city offices are closed today and residents are urged to prepare disaster kits, which should include seven days of food and water supplies for after storm arrives. Residents are also encouraged to fuel all vehicles and generators and prepare all medications for family and pets. 

Sally is expected to bring life threatening flash flooding from Mississippi into the Florida Panhandle. 

9:11 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

Some areas could see 30 inches of rain from Sally, hurricane expert says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

People take a boat out of the water on September 14 in Shell Beach, Louisiana, before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally.
People take a boat out of the water on September 14 in Shell Beach, Louisiana, before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that slow-moving Hurricane Sally could produce 30 inches of rain in some places.

The hurricane is moving at just 2 mph, making it difficult for rain to drain and “incredibly dangerous.”

“When you start moving a system that slow, that just compounds the issues, with that storm surge and also all that rain,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

“The slower the movement, you have more time to push the water in,” he added.

Graham also cautioned that inland areas should be on alert, as some rain bands could produce tornadoes and flooding. 

“People even inland, hundreds of miles inland, just realize: keep an eye on that forecast and watch for those warnings,” he said. 


8:42 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

Trump approves federal disaster declaration for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi ahead of storm

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess, Devon Sayers and Tina Burnside

President Trump has approved  Alabama's request for an emergency disaster declaration ahead of Hurricane Sally, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday. 

“As we continue making preparations for Hurricane Sally to impact Alabama, I thank President Trump and his Administration for approving our request so quickly” a statement from Governor Ivey’s reads. 

Trump approved emergency disaster declarations for both Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday, making federal assistance available for both states.

"We are truly grateful for a president that has Mississippians' safety at the top of his mind," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a news release.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state would be making personnel and assets available to assist in Mississippi or Alabama’s storm responses should Sally miss Louisiana. 

“The past 24 hours or so it’s shown a couple of shifts eastward on the track for Hurricane Sally. Whether that's going to continue or not we don't know. That's why it's really important that people pay close attention,” Edwards said.

8:37 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is about to run out of names

From CNN's Allison Chinchar and Haley Brink

We're currently watching Hurricane Sally as it heads toward the US Gulf Coast, and Tropical Storm Vicky formed in the Atlantic yesterday.

That means there is only one name on the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season list — Wilfred — left.

So what happens if they run out of names? If there's more than one more named storm this year — which seems likely — the National Hurricane Center will have to use the Greek alphabet for additional storm names. 

This would be only the second time in recorded history that this has happened. In 2005, the NHC had to use six letters off the Greek alphabet to account for the record number of storms. Four of those systems reached tropical storm strength (Alpha, Gamma, Delta, and Zeta), while the two other storms reached hurricane strength (Beta and Epsilon).

The NHC does not use the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z because there aren't enough names to fill those letters.

8:26 a.m. ET, September 15, 2020

A city-by-city look at what to expect from Hurricane Sally

From CNN's Taylor Ward and Brandon Miller

The slow movement of Hurricane Sally over the next day or two, along with its turn back to the northwest, will bring the strong winds and heavy rain for an extended period of time for many locations.

Here is a rundown of what to expect by location from Sally:

Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi

  • Tropical storm winds (39 mph+): Early Tuesday morning to mid-Wednesday morning
  • Hurricane force winds (75 mph+): Tuesday evening to early Wednesday morning
  • Peak winds gusts: 90 to 100 mph
  • Total rainfall expected: 10 to 15 inches
  • Peak storm surge: 7 to 11 feet
  • High tide: 11a.m. to noon Tuesday and 1 to 2 a.m. Wednesday

Mobile, Alabama

  • Tropical storm winds (39 mph+): Early Tuesday morning to early Wednesday afternoon
  • Hurricane force winds (75 mph+): Early to mid-morning on Wednesday
  • Peak winds gusts: 75 to 85 mph
  • Total rainfall expected: 12 to 18 inches
  • Peak storm surge: 6 to 9 ft
  • High tide: 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday and 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday

New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Tropical storm winds (39 mph+): Mid-Tuesday morning to just after midnight Wednesday
  • Hurricane force winds (75 mph+): They are not expected
  • Peak winds gusts: 40 to 50 mph
  • Total rainfall expected: 1 to 3 inches
  • Peak storm surge: 3 to 5 ft
  • High tide = 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday

Pensacola, Florida

  • Tropical storm winds (39 mph+): Late last night to noon Wednesday
  • Hurricane force winds (75 mph+): They are not expected
  • Peak winds gusts: 45 to 55 mph
  • Total rainfall expected: 10 to 15 inches
  • Peak storm surge: 2 to 4 ft
  • High tide: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesday