Sally expected to become a hurricane that could soak New Orleans

Tropical storm in the Gulf strengthening and moving toward Louisiana coast

By: - September 13, 2020 5:12 pm

The National Hurricane Center’s predictions for Tropical Storm Sally as of 7 a.m. Monday morning, Sept. 14.

Tropical Storm Sally was slowly creeping toward the Gulf Coast Monday morning, leaving weather forecasters worried about the amount of water the storm will produce and somewhat confused about its track.

At a Sunday afternoon press conference, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Louisianians to prepare for a Category 2 storm that looked like it could pass over the city of New Orleans. But since he spoke, forecasters say it’s more likely that Sally will be a super slow Category 1 with winds of up to 85 mph.

“You should be moving now, acting now to get you and your family ready for the storm,” Gov. Edwards said at that press conference.

Sally is not expected to intensify as rapidly or to the same extent  Hurricane Laura did, but Edwards pointed out that “the rapid intensification of storms that is the hardest to forecast.”

Ben Schott, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said at that Sunday press conference that New Orleans could see as much 15 inches of rainfall, and parishes areas closer to the Gulf could see significantly more than that. 

After Edwards’ press conference, multiple models used to track the storm’s movement began predicting a storm landing to the east of New Orleans toward Mississippi and Alabama.

However, the National Hurricane Center issued a 4 a.m. update Monday morning  that should cause Louisianians to remain alert.

“It is too early to determine where Sally’s center will move onshore given the uncertainty in the timing and location of Sally’s northward turn near the central Gulf Coast,” the center reported. “Users should not focus on the details of the official forecast track, since NHC’s average forecast error at 48 hours is around 80 miles, and dangerous storm surge, rainfall, and wind hazards will extend well away from the center.”

Sally is projected to be a slow-moving storm, which doesn’t bode well for residents in its path. The slower the storm moves, the more rain it will dump.

Though there’s more uncertainty about the storm’s track or if its eye will hit the New Orleans metropolitan area than there was Sunday, Edwards provided a striking illustration then of the storm’s unhurried pace.  “There’s going to be a period of time where the storm’s center is expected to take about 12 hours to move from Kenner to Hammond,” Gov. Edwards said Sunday. “I want you all to think about that. Think about how much rain will fall during that time period.” A motorist could travel from Kenner to Hammond in less than an hour. The two cities are about 38 miles apart as the crow flies.

Early Monday morning Sally, which had been moving at a slow 9 mph had slowed to an even slower 8 mph.

In preparation for the storm, 17 parish offices — those in Ascension, Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrabone and Washington — will be closed on Monday. 

Gov. Edwards, who declared a state of emergency Saturday, said there have not been any discussions about mandatory evacuations, which would typically be called for in a Category 3 hurricane because he does not believe Tropical Storm Sally will strengthen that much. But if the storm grows that strong Monday, the state won’t have time to call a mandatory evacuation. 

“People need to be prepared,” Edwards said. “They need to get a game plan to have all the supplies necessary so the first 72 hours, if necessary, they’re able to sustain themselves.”

Gov. Edwards said that the Mississippi River is low, which means it does not pose the same flooding threat as Hurricane Barry did when it threatened New Orleans last year.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.