Parts of coastal Alabama were already experiencing flooding and storm-force winds early Tuesday as Hurricane Sally meandered north through the Gulf of Mexico at 2 or 3 miles per hour. Photos and videos of rising waters in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, two adjacent tourist destinations in southern Alabama, began to surface on Twitter late Tuesday morning and into the early afternoon.
Forecasters expect Sally to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday morning, initially impacting coastal areas near the Alabama-Mississippi border. The hurricane’s sustained wind speed peaked at 80 miles per hour Tuesday afternoon.
Relaying alerts from weather experts as the storm continued its approach, local officials in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores urged residents to prepare for the possibility of severe flooding, caused by storm surges, over the next 48 hours.
The National Hurricane Center described the oncoming storm surges as historic and “life-threatening” in an advisory released Tuesday. A lengthy stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast, from the western Florida panhandle through southeastern Mississippi, are subject to the hurricane’s most consequential effects. Forecasts estimate the Alabama coast will be hit hardest.
Officials implemented a curfew for residents of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Tuesday morning. It is effective from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Authorities in Baldwin County, which encompasses both cities, also issued a hurricane warning in light of the “potentially historic” flooding along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Residents are advised to refrain from traveling in Gulf Shores throughout Tuesday. Beaches across the region are closed.
Baldwin County residents are encouraged to evacuate the area voluntarily during daylight hours on Tuesday. The county opened a Shelter of Last Resort for evacuees on Monday evening. In an announcement detailing officials’ guidance, as well as formal emergency orders, the City of Orange Beach confirmed the shelter will abide by COVID-19 regulations and was established “for life-safety purposes.”
“A significant risk for flash flooding exists in our area through Wednesday night with potential rain totals of 15 to 20 inches with locally higher amounts. Those living in low lying areas prone to flooding need to seek higher ground,” the announcement read. Storm surges could reach 7 feet above sea level, and the area could see up to 30 inches of rain, as Hurricane Sally comes closer.
Experts anticipate Hurricane Sally will cause significant flooding further inland over the course of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center’s advisory. Parts of Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia, and western portions of North and South Carolina will likely be affected.
Newsweek reached out to the National Hurricane Center for additional updates but did not receive a reply in time for publication.