Sally Bears Down On Gulf Coast

Sep 14, 2020

Credit National Weather Service

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson used his weekly virtual news conference to remind everyone to be vigilant and continue to monitor the progress of Hurricane Sally.

Escambia County is under a tropical storm watch, and a state of emergency for the city of Pensacola was declared by the mayor shortly after his news conference.

“The city is continuing the monitor Sally and we’re in close contact with Escambia County Emergency management,” said Robinson. “We encourage our residents to monitor the storm as well.”

Sally became a hurricane Monday morning, packing 90 mile per hour winds. She’s expected to make landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line sometime on 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 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 to 50 mph and perhaps a few gusts higher than that, right along the immediate beachfront.”

The reason there’s a huge amount of rain predicted with the storm is its meandering through the Gulf – west-northwest at about seven miles an hour. The local forecast calls for 6 to 12 inches on average.

“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 inches of rain starting tonight, going into Tuesday, and potentially lasting into Wednesday as well.”

Mayor Grover Robinson says he has confidence in the improvements made in flood infrastructure since 2014’s flooding. 

Waves crashing on Pensacola Beach Monday afternoon.
Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

“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 inches of storm; but we’ve been able to accomplish that.”

And according to forecaster Ray Hawthorne, the worst of the storm surge is expected to be in parts of Pensacola Bay and Escambia Bay. That has led to the issue of a coastal flood advisory.

“The worst-case scenario right now based on the storm surge modeling is a surge of about 3-feet or so above normally dry ground in those areas,” said Hawthorne. “Most likely, we’re looking about 1 to 2 feet above normally dry ground.”

Even the projected path of the hurricane is not yet settled. Computer models have Sally possibly jogging slightly either east of west – depending on the model. Hawthorne says 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.