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Central Gulf Coast Prepares for Hurricane Sally

hurricane sally
Hurricane Sally, upper left, with four other named Atlantic storms, Sept. 14 (NOAA NHC)

By The Maritime Executive 09-14-2020 06:51:52

The forecast track for Hurricane Sally has shifted to the northeast, and the storm is now expected to make landfall on Mississippi's narrow Gulf of Mexico coastline late Tuesday night. Hurricane Sally now has a lower likelihood of making landfall in Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta, as previously projected. 

A hurricane warning is now in effect between Morgan City, Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida, reflecting both the size of the storm and the uncertainty over its track. The timing of its northward turn will determine its trajectory, and computer models of its path currently show variability. 

The National Hurricane Center estimates that the storm currently has an intensity of about 85 knots, and further strengthening is likely over the course of Monday night. Given warm water and low wind shear, Sally "could approach major hurricane strength" before making landfall, the National Hurricane Center warned. The current intensity projection suggests that the storm's winds will reach 95 knots before the eye arrives on shore. 

Given the storm's growing intensity, an "extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm surge" is likely to affect a wide swath of the coast, and a storm surge warning is in effect between Port Fourchon, Louisiana and Miramar Beach, Florida. Lake Pontchartrain is covered by the warning, and the City of New Orleans has issued a mandatory evacuation area for neighborhoods outside of Orleans Parish's levees; some affected areas could experience a storm surge of up to 11 feet, and the flood gates on their evacuation routes will be closed‌ in advance.

Torrential rain, dangerous flash flooding and limited river flooding are expected to affect a large area surrounding the storm's center. The storm's slow rate of advance will give it additional time to deliver rain along its track.

Businesses, governments and industries are already making preparations for the storm. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) closed Sunday and the U.S. Coast Guard has closed the Mississippi River bar to southbound vessel traffic. The Port of New Orleans is also closed, along with portions of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Further to the east, the ports of Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, Pascagoula and Pensacola are also closed. 

In Mississippi, defense shipyard Ingalls Shipbuilding said Sunday that it has suspended all of its operations on Monday and Tuesday for all shifts.