Hurricane Sally Sweeps Through Gulf Coast, Causing Major Flooding and Damages

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Hurricane Sally made landfall over Gulf Shores, Alabama, at around 6 a.m. central time. A few hours before landfall, the storm was upgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 2. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), a Category 2 hurricane has winds of up to 110 miles per hour, while a Category 1 hurricane has winds of up to 95 miles per hour.

Hurricane Sally started as various showers and thunderstorms a few hundred miles northeast of the Central Bahamas, which started being seriously monitored on Sept. 9. Two days later, the storm system was named “Tropical Depression 19.”

On Sept. 11, a tropical storm watch was issued for eastern Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties in South Florida. The next day, Tropical Depression 19 was upgraded to Tropical Storm Sally, and Southern Florida was hit with pouring rain and flash flooding, with areas receiving over 10 inches of rain.

As the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency. “While we ultimately don’t know where Sally will make landfall, much of Southeast Louisiana is in the storm’s cone and the risk of tropical storm force or hurricane strength winds continues to increase,” Edwards said.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves also announced a state of emergency.

According to the NHC, hurricane hunters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that Tropical Storm Sally strengthened to a hurricane on Sept. 14. At this point, Hurricane Sally was approaching the coastline.

At midnight on Sept. 16, Hurricane Sally was upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, with winds of over 100 miles per hour. Hurricane conditions spread on the coast from Pensacola, Florida to Dauphin Island, Alabama.

Hurricane Sally had maximum winds of 105 miles per hour, just five miles less than what would classify it as a Category 3 hurricane. According to the U.S. National Weather Service Mobile Alabama, the hurricane may be a “long duration event,” and people along the coast needed to stay indoors and keep safe.

Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Sally had already produced up to 18″ of rain, as of 5 a.m., creating disastrous flash flooding. More rain was still expected until Friday, September 18, including around 12+ inches on the Gulf Coast, four to eight-plus inches in Alabama and Georgia, four to 6-plus inches in the Carolinas, and two to five inches in Virginia.

“We had 30 inches of rain in Pensacola, which is four months of rain in four hours,” Chief of the Pensacola Fire Department Ginny Cranor, said. Flash flooding occurred and some cities were several feet underwater.

The storm downgraded from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 1 hurricane, and then to a tropical rainstorm on September 17. It dissipated on September 18.

Hurricane Sally claimed at least four lives — two in Alabama and two in Florida.

Strong winds from the hurricane caused power outages for more than 500,000 people in Alabama and Florida. Storm surges ripped a section of the Gulf State Park Pier in Alabama in half. In Florida, winds caused a crane to knock out a portion of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, after storm winds pushed the arm of a crane up into the structure.

Officials in Pensacola have also been working to clean up oil leaks from storm vessels after several reports of sheening on the water. Several vessels were damaged or submerged during the storm. “The hurricane definitely knocked a lot of boats out of the water, sunk a lot of boats and did quite a bit of damage,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Dustin Williams said.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved four million U.S. dollars of financial assistance for hurricane relief. However, the estimated cost of damages is much higher than that, with predicted costs ranging from three billion U.S. dollars, according to AIR Worldwide, to 10 billion U.S. dollars, according to Enki Research.

Through Teen Lenses: Did you know about Hurricane Sally, and when and where she made landfall? If yes, do you know the extent of the damage caused? Did you feel the reach of the storm where you are located?

“Yes, I did know about Hurricane Sally. I heard about it from my friend and the news. I heard that hurricane Sally hit Florida and Alabama. The damage was immense and there was a lot of flooding. I remember seeing pictures of the floodings on some social media. The water almost reached half of the homes’ height. After the hurricane died down, there were pieces of buildings torn off and many trees on the ground. In Northern Virginia, we were very far from the actual hurricane, but I believe we felt a small thunderstorm during the time.” Christy-Judy Nohra, Junior at Thomas Edison High School, Alexandria, Virginia
“Yes, I’ve heard about Hurricane Sally. I’m pretty sure she made landfall in the Gulf Coast. I did not feel the reach of the storm but there were remnants of it.” Alishba Khan, Sophomore at Broad Run High School, Ashburn, Virginia
“From what I’ve heard and seen on the news, Hurricane Sally reached its peak about a week ago as a Category 2 storm. I hear it impacted Florida the most and reached up to North Carolina with rain. I don’t know the exact extent of the damage caused, but I heard lots of communities had to be evacuated and they suffered a lot of property damage. I don’t think there were any effects that reached Northern Virginia, but the weather got a little colder and it was very windy a few days last week.” Anisha Iqbal, Sophomore at West Springfield High School, West Springfield, Virginia