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Portions of the Florida Panhandle are under a hurricane warning and storm surge warning as Hurricane Sally slowly approaches the northern Gulf Coast as a Category 1 storm that could dump up to 30 inches of rain in isolated areas on the region.
The warnings were issued for Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties – including Pensacola – and Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency late Monday night.
The forecast track shifted slightly to the east overnight, putting the Florida Panhandle within the forecast cone, and its slow movement could produce historic flooding in the western Panhandle and spawn tornadoes Tuesday and Wednesday.
Areas from Panama City to Marianna could see rainfall amounts of 5-10 inches, and 2-5 inches from Tallahassee to Apalachicola through Thursday. Flash flood watches are in effect for much of the Panhandle.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say Sally, which weakened into a Category 1 storm, is producing hurricane-force winds in the warning area as it inches toward landfall along the north-central Gulf Coast on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Ray Hawthorne, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, said Sally is expected to make landfall around midday Wednesday between coastal Mississippi and the far western Florida Panhandle. The rain directly from Sally may not diminish until Friday when the storm gets picked up by a cold front.
The Panhandle could experience storm surge and tropical storm conditions starting Tuesday morning and lasting through Wednesday.
As of Tuesday at 11 a.m., Sally was located about 55 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi River and crawling to the northwest at only 2 mph. Maximum sustained winds are 85 mph, with higher gusts.
A flash flood watch remains in effect through Wednesday.
Forecasters say storm surge heights between 2-4 feet are expected along the western coastlines with surge height of 1-3 feet possible near the city of Destin and east through Apalachicola.
“I’m expecting 10 to 20 inches of rain in a widespread area from Destin and Fort Walton west to Pensacola,” Hawthorne said. “Isolated amounts of up to 30 inches are possible.”
Hawthorne said that area can see a peak surge of 2-4 feet, and as high as 1-3 feet as far east as Big Bend. Isolated tornadoes also are possible from Tallahassee to the west on Tuesday.
Sally is meandering to the west-northwest, forecasters said, and a northern turn is expected Tuesday afternoon. It is then expected to shift to the north-northeast to northeast Tuesday night into Wednesday night, with a projected landfall along the north-central Gulf Coast as it crosses Alabama on Wednesday and Thursday before weakening into a tropical depression over Georgia.
The storm also could produce tornadoes, along with life-threatening surf and dangerous rip currents.’
While Sally has passed the greater Tampa Bay region, rain chances remain high as the storm continues to drive deep tropical moisture into the area.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service say the moisture wrapping around the east side of the storm will produce bands of showers and storms Tuesday that could result in isolated flooding in some areas.
Beaches can also expect rough surf and a high risk of rip currents.
Sally is expected to merge with a cold front and move off the Carolina coast on Friday, Hawthorne said. Slightly drier air is likely over the Panhandle this weekend, but the cold front may produce areas of rain over the Florida peninsula this weekend even after Sally’s departure.