Sally is now a Category-2 hurricane and continuing to bear down on the northern Gulf Coast. Escambia and Santa Rosa counties were placed in the hurricane warning area on Monday.
“The city is continuing the monitor Sally and we’re in close contact with Escambia County Emergency management,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, who declared a state of emergency just after his weekly virtual news conference on Monday. “We encourage our residents to monitor the storm as well.”
Sally became the seventh Atlantic hurricane Tuesday morning then strengthened to a Cat-2 just a few hours later. Landfall is a matter of conjecture, but the odds-on favorite is somewhere along the Louisiana or Mississippi coast sometime Tuesday.
“Even if landfall happens west in Louisiana or Mississippi, a significant amount of rainfall is forecast for Northwest Florida,” said the mayor. “At this particular time, the most severe impact to us will be some rain; some of our roads will perhaps become impassible because of tidal.”
While there’s no direct hit expected on Pensacola, Sally could provide the largest amount of rainfall since April, 2014 -- when more than 20 inches inundated the city.
“Sally is moving west-northwest very slowly, and rain bands are going to be more frequent – especially into this evening after sunset,” said Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. “And those rain bands are very likely to contain tropical storm-force winds in excess of 40-50 mph and perhaps a few gusts higher than that, right along the immediate beachfront.”
And according to forecaster Ray Hawthorne, the worst of the local storm surge is expected to be in parts of Pensacola and Escambia Bays. A coastal flood advisory is in effect.
“There are going to be some persistent rain bands that develop on the east side of the hurricane,” Hawthorne said. “We’re on the ‘dirty side’ of this storm -- so that means some of these persistent bands could easily have more than 15 in. of rain starting tonight, going into Tuesday, and potentially lasting into Wednesday as well.”
But Mayor Grover Robinson has confidence that the improvements made in Pensacola’s stormwater infrastructure since the 2014 flood.
“We [also] did a lot of work over the weekend; we do expect to have significantly better drainage coverage that we did in 2014,” said Robinson. “And even in 2014 we had drainage coverage that rivals most communities. Aren’t prepared to deal with 10-11 in. of storm; but we’ve been able to accomplish that.”
According to forecaster Ray Hawthorne, the worst of the local storm surge is expected to be in parts of Pensacola and Escambia Bays. A coastal flood advisory is in effect.
“The worst-case scenario right now based on the storm surge modeling is a surge of about 3 ft. or so above normally dry ground in those areas,” said Hawthorne. “Most likely, we’re looking about 1-2 ft. above normally dry ground.”
Even the projected path of the hurricane is not yet settled. Computer models have Sally possibly jogging slightly to the east – the reason the western Panhandle was brought under the hurricane warning area. Rule of thumb, says Hawthorne: the slower a storm moves, the harder it is to predict.
“It looks like the storm is going to move toward the west on Tuesday, and then turn toward the north,” said Hawthorne. “There is one part of Louisiana that sticks out a little bit, and [Sally] could scrape that as well. But it really looks like Mississippi or Alabama would see most likely the landfall coming up on Tuesday afternoon.
Looking ahead, after a week of heavy rainfall and some wind, Hawthorne says an approaching cold front could give Northwest Florida a bit of a drying-out.
“Based on the latest projections, it looks like the front is going to come through on Friday; and if that is the case we would have a dryer weekend and maybe temperatures a little below average for this time of the year coming up both Saturday and Sunday and perhaps lasting into next week.”
Sally is perhaps the most unwelcome guest among the current Atlantic storms. Hurricane Paulette is over Bermuda and Rene, Teddy and now Vicky are spinning over open waters.