RIDE SALLY RIDE

BY BRUCE BRANUM

The Greenville Standard

 

In what turned out to be one of those hurricanes which had a mind of its own, Hurricane Sally turned on the Gulf coast of Alabama and Florida after considering land fall in Louisiana.

The most devastating effects Sally brought were storm surge, flooding rains, and 100+ mile per hour winds as she slowly inched toward Gulf Shores at 2-3 miles per hour.

By the time weather forecasters could say with certainty that Gulf Shores was the path, Sally was already too close for citizens to make full blown disaster preparations.

Many beachgoers and residents were left to ride the blow even though authorities had urged evacuation. The song ‘Mustang Sally’ was the theme for most hurricane partiers.

Arriving on the coast as category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph in the early a.m. hours Wednesday morning, Sally’s slow progress with steady hurricane force winds inundated the Alabama and Florida coasts with record level storm surges and rainfall.

The hurricane killed at least one person in Orange Beach. Mayor Tony Kennon told The Associated Press that another person was missing but couldn’t release additional details.

The Gulf Shores State Park Pier was damaged and lost several sections towards the end of the pier. Electrical service to the whole island was not expected for 7-10 days.

Sally left parts of the coasts with over 25 inches of rain and a six-foot storm surge. Her winds cut power to more than 500,000 customers in Alabama and Florida.

Significant flash flooding with flooded roads and homes occurred in numerous spots from southeast Alabama into the western Florida Panhandle.

Several tornadic events in Georgia and South Carolina were attributed to Sally.

Butler County received 5-7 inches of rain over a three day period with wind gust approaching 40 mph.

There were numerous trees which fell across roads keeping volunteer fire departments, county and city road crews, and law enforcement busy.

Utility crews were out in force fixing downed power lines with some crews headed south to help on the coast.

One motorcyclist was injured on Wednesday when he struck a limb which had fallen in the road way. There were also several vehicle wrecks on county, state, and federal roads, most attributable to blowing rain, debris, or hydroplaning.

Wednesday afternoon, as the remnants of Sally passed just south of Butler County, Butler County EMA issued an Impassable Travel Advisory which stated, “Effective today, Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 5p.m. all roads and bridges in Butler County should be considered IMPASSABLE until further notice. Members of the general public are advised that when roads and bridges become IMPASSABLE all travel should be suspended or delayed. ONLY emergency vehicles should travel on county roads and bridges until further notice.”

All county schools closed Wednesday and Thursday. Fort Dale Academy opened Friday but county schools decided to remain closed until Monday.

The storm surge inundated Pensacola in 5.6 feet of water, the third-highest level on record.

The five highest water levels on record since 1923 at Pensacola are:

9.54 feet, September 16, 2014, Hurricane Ivan;

7.41 feet, September 20, 1926, Great Miami Hurricane;

5.60 feet, September 16, 2020, Hurricane Sally;

5.43 feet, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina; and

4.71 feet, October 4, 1995, Hurricane Opal.

Water levels at Dauphin Island peaked at 3.1 feet above high tide before Sally’s offshore winds began blowing the water away from shore. It was the island’s sixth-highest water level on record (since 1966).

Also as a result of the surge, a section part of the Three Mile Bridge in Pensacola on US Highway 98 collapsed.

Wind reports during Sally’s landfall included:

Dauphin Island, 81 mph with a gust of 99 mph;

Pensacola Naval Air Station, 61 mph with a gust of 86 mph;

National Ocean Service CO-OP station in Fort Morgan, 98 mph with a gust to 116 mph; and

University of Florida weather tower at Gulf Shores, 75 mph with a gust to 93 mph.

Significant flash flooding with flooded roads and homes occurred in numerous spots from southeast Alabama into the western Florida Panhandle.

Sally is the fourth landfalling hurricane in the continental U.S. this year. The most recent year with four or more landfalling continental U.S. hurricanes was 2005, with five landfalls.

The record year was 1886, with seven. The continental U.S. had six land-falling hurricanes during the years 2005, 2004, and 1985.

Hurricane Sally will definitely make the history books for the coast but her effects inland were far less reaching than Hurricane Opal or Ivan.

“Hurricane Opal 1995

Opal was first detected as a tropical wave moving off the African coast on September 11.

The wave moved westward through the Atlantic and Caribbean and merged with a broad low pressure area over the western Caribbean on September 23.

The combined system then developed into a tropical depression near the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on September 27.

The depression drifted slowly northward, becoming Tropical Storm Opal as it reached the north coast of Yucatan on the 30th.

Opal then moved slowly westward into the Bay of Campeche, where it became a hurricane on October 2.

A gradual north-northeastward turn started later on the 2nd, with acceleration on the 3rd and 4th.

Opal continued to strengthen, and a period of rapid strengthening late of the 3rd and early on the 4th made it a Category 4 hurricane.

Weakening followed, and Opal was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall near Pensacola Beach, Florida late on the 4th.

Opal continued quickly north-northeastward and became extratropical over the Ohio Valley on the 5th. The cyclone was last seen over the eastern Great Lakes on October 6.

Hurlbert Field, Fla. reported sustained winds of 84 mph with a peak gust of 144 mph, and gusts to 70 mph occurred as far inland as northwest Georgia.

However, the main impact from Opal was from storm surge. A combination of storm surge and breaking waves inundated portions of the western Florida Panhandle coast to a depth of 10 to 20 ft.

The surge was responsible for the bulk of the $3 billion in damage attributed to Opal in the United States.

Opal was responsible for 9 deaths in the United States, including eight from falling trees and one from a tornado.

Opal was responsible for 50 deaths in Mexico and Guatemala due to flooding caused by heavy rains.

 

Hurricane Ivan 2004

Ivan developed from a large tropical wave that crossed the west coast of Africa on August 31, and spawned a tropical depression two days later.

The depression reached storm strength on September 3rd (one of only a dozen on record to do so south of 10EN) and continued to strengthen.

By the 5th, Ivan had become a hurricane about 1150 miles east of the southern Windward Islands.

Eighteen hours later Ivan became the southernmost storm to reach major hurricane status, at 10.2EN.

Ivan was a category 3 hurricane when the center passed about 7 miles south of Grenada, a path that took the northern eyewall of Ivan directly over the island.

In the Caribbean, Ivan became a category 5 hurricane, with winds of 160 mph, on the 9th when it was south of the Dominican Republic, and on two occasions the minimum pressure fell to 910 mb.

The center of Ivan passed within about 20 miles of Jamaica on the 11th and a similar distance from Grand Cayman on the 12th, with Grand Cayman likely experiencing sustained winds of category 4 strength.

Ivan then turned to the northwest and passed through the Yucatan channel on the 14th , bringing hurricane conditions to extreme western Cuba.

Ivan moved across the east-central Gulf of Mexico, making landfall as a major hurricane with sustained winds of near 120 m.p.h. on the 16th just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Ivan weakened as it moved inland, producing over 100 tornadoes and heavy rains across much of the southeastern United States, before merging with a frontal system over the Delmarva Peninsula on the 18th.

While this would normally be the end of the story, the extratropical remnant low of Ivan split off from the frontal system and drifted southward in the western Atlantic for several days, crossed southern Florida, and re-entered the Gulf of Mexico on the 21st.

The low re-acquired tropical characteristics, becoming a tropical storm for the second time on the 22nd in the central Gulf.

Ivan weakened before it made its final landfall in southwestern Louisiana as a tropical depression on the 24th.

Ivan’s storm surge completely over-washed the island of Grand Cayman, where an estimated 95% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Surge heights of 10-15 feet occurred along the Gulf coast during Ivan’s first U.S. landfall. Peak rainfall amounts in the Caribbean and United States were generally 10-15 inches.

The death toll from Ivan stands at 92 – 39 in Grenada, 25 in the United States, 17 in Jamaica, 4 in Dominican Republic, 3 in Venezuela, 2 in the Cayman Islands, and 1 each in Tobago and Barbados. U.S. damage is estimated to be near $14.2 billion, the third largest total on record.”

(The National Hurricane Center)

 

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