NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. – Heavy rain, pounding surf and flash floods hit parts of the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama coast Tuesday as Hurricane Sally lumbered toward land at a painfully slow pace, threatening as much as 30 inches of rain and dangerous, historic flooding.
The storm's center churned offshore 75 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, as Sally was creeping toward an expected landfill late Tuesday or early today at only 2 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached the coast Tuesday night. Up to 4 inches of rain had already fallen on parts of the coast, according to the national weather service. And Sally's lumbering pace meant more deluges.
“A hurricane moving at 2 mph is stalled, for all intents and purposes,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “If they aren't moving along and they just kind of sit there, you're going to get a ridiculous amount of rain.”
Packing sustained winds of 80 mph, Sally remained dangerous even though its winds dropped considerably from a fierce peak of 100 mph Monday. The National Hurricane Center expected Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane when it comes ashore, adding that “historic life-threatening flash flooding is likely.”
By Tuesday evening, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida. Rainfall of up to 20 inches was forecast near the coast. There also was a threat the storm could spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 30 inches in spots from the Florida Panhandle to southeast Mississippi.
Two large casino boats broke loose Tuesday from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. M.J. Bosarge, who lives near the shipyard, said at least one of the riverboats had done considerable damage to the dock.
“You really want to get them secured because with wind and rain like this, the water is constantly rising,” Bosarge said.
Forecasters warned that Sally could unleash flooding similar to what Hurricane Harvey inflicted in 2017.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permitted a safe escape amid predictions that storm surge along Alabama's coast, including Mobile Bay, could reach 6 feet above ground.
“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said.