Hurricane Sally is moving toward the US gulf coast, threatening to cause “historic” flooding in the region, with the potential to cause up to $5 billion in damage and loss to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Sally’s core made landfall Wednesday along the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast, reducing the threat to New Orleans, but increasing concerns in Mobile. According to the National Hurricane Center, the hurricane’s winds began spreading to the coast around 3 a.m. New York time. The storm’s headwinds increased to 169 kilometers per hour and moved toward the coast at 2 kilometers per hour, making it a Category 2 hurricane at 5 paces on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
“Historic, life-threatening flash floods are likely to occur,” wrote Dan Brown, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Prediction Center, for a different perspective. “In addition, these rains will cause widespread and moderate flooding in the region’s rivers.”
The storm that evacuated some offshore energy platforms has delayed the closure of the Gulf coast.
The U.S. has been hit by natural disasters this year, including fires raging in the West, storms that have caused billions of dollars of damage in the East and along the Gulf Coast, and rights-of-way that hit the Midwest earlier this summer. With the advent of Tropical Storm Vicky, the Atlantic basin has produced 20 storms, the second-most in history. In 2005 alone, there were 28 storms.
After dropping to 80 miles per hour on Tuesday, the winds picked up sharply early Wednesday morning. Tides of up to two meters are possible in some areas of the Gulf Coast. Smaller amounts will occur near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
“Any time the waves exceed 10 feet, it’s very problematic,” said Dan Kotlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. Hundreds of square miles along the coast could receive more than 20 inches of rain, which “ranks as the greatest potential for flooding,” he said.
After Sally makes landfall, the floods could cause widespread damage as they move eastward through Georgia and South Carolina, bringing more rain.
“I think the focus will be on mobile flooding and the interior of Alabama,”Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, said. He estimated the damage and loss would be between $3 billion and $5 billion, less than that if the heavy rains stayed at sea, but the cost could increase if there is wind damage.
Disasters and emergencies have been declared by state and local agencies and the federal government along the Gulf Coast.
Oil Disruption in the gulf coasts
Across the Gulf, just over 23 percent of production platforms and 30 percent of facilities have been evacuated, according to the Department of Environmental Safety and Compliance. Almost 27 percent of oil production and more than 28 percent of gas production have been shut down. Phillips 66 said it would close its Alliance refinery in Louisiana before the storm.
The flooding could affect cotton, corn and peanut crops across the region, but widespread damage is not expected, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with Maxar.
Seven storms will hit the U.S. in 2020, including Hurricane Laura, which devastated southwest Louisiana, and Hurricane Isaiah, which temporarily cut off power to millions of people in the Northeast.
In addition to Sally, other storms have hit the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Paulette is drifting at sea after hitting Bermuda. The other storms – Teddy and Vicki – are not threatening to land immediately. There is a 70 percent chance of a fifth storm in five days.