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Sally weakens to Category 1 hurricane near Alabama-Florida border

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Sept. 16 (UPI) — Hurricane Sally made landfall in the U.S. Gulf Coast early Wednesday as a Category 2 storm and brought severe conditions from the Florida Panhandle to Alabama, forecasters said.

The National Hurricane Center said in its last full update at 7 a.m. CDT the storm brought hurricane conditions from Pensacola Beach, Fla., to Dauphin Island, Ala. and will likely cause “catastrophic” and life-threatening flooding along portions of the north-central Gulf Coast.

The NHC said in a 9 a.m. update the eye of Sally — now a Category 1 storm — was “moving slowly” near the Alabama-Florida border and was located about 20 miles west of Pensacola, Fla. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and was moving to the northeast at 4 mph.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph when it made landfall before dawn Wednesday.

Forecasters said Sally could produce as many as 30 inches of rain in some areas between Florida and western Alabama.

Before Sally’s arrival on land, the NHC had warned the “extremely” dangerous storm could produce severe storm surge, as well.

The center issued a hurricane warning for the swath between the Mississippi-Alabama border and the Okaloosa-Walton County line in Florida.

The storm was already kicking up a significant storm surge in some places along the coastline in Louisiana and caused flooding in Alabama, Accuweather reported.

Sally grew to Category 2 strength early Wednesday after spending most of Tuesday as a Category 1 storm.

Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, was the last hurricane to make landfall in Alabama, as a Category 3 storm. The state saw Hurricane Danny in 1997 and Hurricane Frederic in 1979.

Gulf Coast residents were rushing preparations to completion this week before Sally’s arrival — a little over two weeks after Hurricane Laura’s devastating blow in western Louisiana and the upper Texas coast.

Forecasters said New Orleans will avoid the majority of the impact from Sally, due to an eastward shift in the storm’s track.

States of emergency have been issued by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and mandatory evacuations were ordered in low-lying areas of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Sally was the earliest named “S-Storm” to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean basin, beating out 2005’s Hurricane Stan, which was named on Oct. 2.

In less than 24 hours, Sally went from being a mass of showers and thunderstorms east of the Bahamas last Friday to a tropical depression before growing into a tropical storm Saturday.

There is also the potential for brief tornadoes and waterspouts to spin up near and east of the center of the storm as it crawls inland. On Tuesday morning, tornado watches were issued by the National Weather Service for coastal Alabama and the western half of the Florida Panhandle.

After moving inland, the storm will lose wind intensity, but continue to pull moisture northward into the Deep South.

AccuWeather meteorologists said that natural gas and oil production is expected to be shut down for one day to two days in the north-central Gulf as Sally moves through the region, but the majority of the rigs are located farther west, over the western Gulf of Mexico.

Sally isn’t the only system meteorologists are monitoring. Hurricanes Paulette and Teddy are also in the Atlantic basin, along with Tropical Storm Vicky.

Hurricane season does not officially end until the end of November, and forecasters say that named systems could emerge into December this year.

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