Tropical System to Bring Flooding Rains Across Gulf Coast

A tropical depression west of Miami will likely become a hurricane once it gets over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters and is set to bring flooding rains along the coastline from the Florida Panhandle to New Orleans next week.

The storm, likely to be called Sally once its winds reach 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour, will probably make landfall between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center said. Its top winds are likely to reach 75 mph by late Monday, which would make it a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

Its structure and path mean it won’t have a great effect on offshore oil and natural gas fields, and it will miss areas devastated by Hurricane Laura in August.

Flooding is the primary risk: the system could bring 10 to 20 inches (25 to 51 cm) of rain along the Gulf coast, said James Gebhardt, a meteorologist with Maxar.

“That is going to be the main issue with this system,” Gebhardt said by telephone. “It is going to slow down. There will be heavy rains from Monday through early Thursday. It is a large rainmaker.”

Tallying Costs

On its current track, the storm looks set to cause about $1 billion of losses and damage, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. If it blows water from Lake Pontchartrain toward New Orleans, or the flooding gets worse, there’s a chance the costs will rise.

The evolving system is currently dubbed the season’s 19th by the National Hurricane Center. If it takes the moniker Sally, though, it will be 2020’s 18th named storm in the Atlantic, the earliest that tally has been reached in records going back to 1851, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast.

The previous record was set by Stan, which formed in October 2005. So far seven storms have hit the U.S. in 2020, including Laura, which devastated southwest Louisiana, and Hurricane Isaias, which temporarily knocked out power to millions in the Northeast.

There’s some doubt the system will be named Sally, since four other potential storms in the Atlantic could claim the name first, according to the NHC. Tropical Storm Paulette is also forecast to strengthen into a hurricane as it nears Bermuda late Sunday; a hurricane warning has been issued. Another Atlantic storm, Rene, has weakened to a tropical depression. Systems are currently strengthening near and to the southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands.

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