Tropical Storm Sally lashes Alabama and Florida

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12:07 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020

More than half a million customers are without power because of Sally

From CNN's Tina Burnside

As of noon ET, more than 500,000 customers are without power due to Hurricane Sally.

There are currently 504,808 customers without power in Florida and Alabama, according to PowerOutage.US.

Alabama is experiencing the most significant outages from Hurricane Sally, with at least 278,889 outages. There are at least 225,909 outages in Florida.

Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama, early Wednesday morning. More than 500,000 customers lost power at the height of the storm. 

11:59 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

Here are some of the extreme winds Sally unleashed

CNN meteorologist Haley Brink

A man walks in Mobile, Alabama, during strong winds on September 16.
A man walks in Mobile, Alabama, during strong winds on September 16. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Hurricane Sally brought extremely high winds to portions of the Gulf Coast upon landfall this morning. 

Here are some of the strong reported wind gusts in association with Sally's landfall this morning:

  • 121 mph* in Fort Morgan, Alabama
  • 116 mph* in Gulf Shores, Alabama
  • 98 mph* in Dauphin Island, Alabama
  • 92 mph in Pensacola, Florida
  • 74 mph in Mobile, Alabama

*Depicts locations where the reporting station is elevated.

These winds have and will continue to cause damage across the Gulf Coast as the system continues to push inland. Sally has weakened some and now has sustained 80 mph winds but is still producing winds strong enough to knock down trees, power lines, and any loose debris.

1:19 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020

A section of the bridge that connects the Gulf Breeze to Pensacola is missing 

From CNN's Tina Burnside

from City of Gulf Breeze
from City of Gulf Breeze

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan says a section of the Three Mile Bridge that connects Gulf Breeze, Florida, to Pensacola is missing due to Hurricane Sally. 

Morgan didn't say how extensive the damage to the bridge was, only indicating that an assessment was done on the bridge this morning. 

The city of Gulf Breeze tweeted that the Three Mile Bridge was closed along with a photo of what appears to be a crane on top of it. 

CNN is on the ground in Pensacola Beach:

11:44 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

Florida county sheriff anticipates thousands of residents will need to be evacuated

From CNN's Tina Burnside

A man wades through flood waters in downtown Pensacola, Florida, September 16.
A man wades through flood waters in downtown Pensacola, Florida, September 16. Gerald Herbert/AP

Hours after Hurricane Sally made landfall, Escambia County, Florida Sheriff David Morgan says the devastation from the storm is "bad."

During a news conference on Wednesday morning, Morgan said there was extensive flooding in Escambia County from Sally.

"It's going to take a considerable amount of time to clean this up," Morgan said. 

Morgan compared Sally's devastation from the water to that of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. 

The sheriff anticipates thousands of residents will need to be evacuated due to flooding and covered roadways. 

"It's going to be a long time folks for us to come out of this thing," Morgan said. The sheriff is urging residents to stay indoors and to call 911 if they are in a life-threatening situation and need to be evacuated from the home. 

Morgan says there are no reports of injuries or fatalities at this time. 

11:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

Sally's surge in Pensacola is higher than during Hurricane Katrina

A street is flooded in Pensacola, Florida, on September 16.
A street is flooded in Pensacola, Florida, on September 16. Gerald Herbert/AP

Sally's surge is the third-highest ever recorded in Pensacola, according to preliminary automatic readings. 

It has reached 5.6 feet of storm surge.

Historically Hurricane Katrina held the third-highest spot, with 5.43 feet mean higher high water level (MHHW). 

The top two spots are held by the 1926 Miami Hurricane with 7.42 feet MHHW and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 with 9.54 feet MHHW. 

11:31 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

This hurricane hunter flies into the eye of the storm to get key data. Here’s what it’s like.

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

As officials prepare for any hurricane, they rely on critical data that is collected by an Air Force team known as hurricane hunters by flying into the storm’s eye wall.

Maj. Kendall Dunn, a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Pilot, who oversaw the ground operations for the flights for Hurricane Sally, described what it’s like to be on these flights.

“We say it's hours of boredom with moments of sheer terror and that’s the truth,” he told CNN. “You're relaxed, you’re having some water and a drink and then all of a sudden, it's 200 mile-an-hour winds. It’s up, it’s down. 2 G’s to negative G’s, winds all over place, jockeying aircraft, trying to keep it level while our meteorologists in the back are doing their job, gathering data."

"It can get pretty hairy,” he added.

Every storm that gets a name becomes a personality to hurricane hunters and they're surprised every time, Maj. Dunn said.

“It's like every person you meet on the street. Some have a strong personality and some have a weak one and you're surprised every time, he told CNN. “You make one pass through the storm. You know, each pass is about an hour and 45 minutes, getting into the mid of it. It could be nothing and then you come back in and it will shock you to death.”

Watch the interview:

11:13 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

River forecast to reach all-time record high

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar

One of the biggest concerns with Hurricane Sally is excessive water. 

  • Short term — the main concern is storm surge and heavy rainfall, both leading to a high risk of flash flooding.
  • Long term — the main concern is river flooding.

The flooding is more of a delayed concern with rivers because the runoff water from streets and homes first flows into drainage or smaller creeks and streams. 

Then all of that water eventually collides into the bigger rivers, and those rivers swell. In Sally's case, they swell to dangerous levels.

Right now, there are 13 river gauges expected to reach Major Flood Stage across three different states.

In Barrineau Park, Florida, the Perdido River is of particular concern as it is currently forecast to reach a height of 27.1 feet, breaking the all-time record of 26.3 feet.

Another location to watch is the Styx River in Elsanor, Alabama, which is currently forecast to get to a height of 27.2 feet, within one foot of the all-time record of 28.6 feet. 

Depending on how much rain actually falls along and near this river could cause this forecast to change.

11:03 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

Flash flood emergency issued for Gulf Shores and Pensacola

CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen

A flash flood emergency has been issued for parts of the coast, near where Hurricane Sally made landfall. The warning is in effect until 5:30 p.m. CDT, according to the NWS in Mobile. 

The flash flood emergency covers parts of coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, including the cities of Pensacola and Gulf Shores. 

Up to two feet of rain has already fallen over the area.

Additionally heavy rain is expected to fall, with some areas potentially seeing nearly 35” of rain from Sally.

11:02 a.m. ET, September 16, 2020

Florida county official to residents: Only call 911 if the water is rising in your home

from CNN's Tina Burnside

Officials in Santa Rosa County, Florida, say they are starting to see the impacts to the county as Hurricane Sally sweeps through the area. 

In a Facebook post from the Florida Panhandle county, Public Safety Director Brad Baker said roadways are flooded and trees and power lines are down. 

Parker also said they are seeing increased water levels in the bays and is urging everyone to stay indoors. 

Emergency vehicles are only responding to high water calls due to the high wind and excessive rain in the county, Baker said. 

"If you are home, we are seeing increased water levels in the bays, so if you are trapped in your house and the water is rising please call 911. Other than that we ask you to please stay home. Emergency vehicles are only responding to high water calls, due to the high wind and the excessive rain we are getting," Baker said.