Hurricane Sally intensifies, path still uncertain
By ALAN SMASON
Hurricane warnings were extended by authorities from the Louisiana coastline to the panhandle of Florida as Hurricane Sally rapidly increased from a loosely organized tropical storm to a Category 1 storm bearing 90 m.p.h. winds late Monday morning. Authorities believe it will intensify even further over the course of the next 10 hours.
As of 1:00 p.m. CDT, the center of the hurricane was located approximately 125 miles east southeast from the mouth of the Mississippi River, an area previously suspected to be a new center after lightning strikes started popping up near there.
Although the New Orleans metropolitan area appears to be out of the direct crosshairs of the storm, authorities warn that a slight jog towards the west could bring about catastrophic rain amounts from the expected 3-5 inches expected over the course of 48 hours to totals that could exceed 7-11 inches. The area continues to be under a flash flood watch.
The storm continued to slow its forward progress and is again moving west northwest at 7 m.p.h. It is expected to become a powerful Category 2 storm by the time it makes landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast tomorrow probably near Biloxi.
Because New Orleans is still in the area of uncertainty, the storm’s forward progress will be monitored closely by weather forecasters. The major threat from the system comes from downpours that could inundate portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle with more than 15-18 inches of rain, perhaps more in some areas. The storm also brings with the threat of a huge storm surge of 7-11 feet.
Hurricane hunters report seas of 14 feet near the center of the storm.
If the storm continues its progress most of the projections suggest tropical storm force winds gusting up might be expected to stay within the Greater New Orleans area until Wednesday, ramping up the possibility of downed trees and power lines.
Area forecasters are calling for the storm to continue to track toward the west, northwest at 6 m.p.h., down to half of its reported speed from yesterday.
Mandatory evacuations of areas not protected by levees in St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes have been announced as well as in New Orleans East by city officials.
This is a developing story.