Hurricane Sally continues to strengthen as it makes a slow track toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Sally is expected to make landfall as a strong Category 2 storm early Wednesday morning near Pascagoula, Miss. As the storm turns eastward, it will dump life-threatening rainfall on the greater New Orleans area starting tonight into Tuesday. High storm surge and hurricane-force wind gusts are also forecast.
Right now, Sally is moving toward the west-northwest and is expected to continue in this direction through tonight. The storm is expected to pivot north on Tuesday and continue a slow turn toward the northeast Tuesday night through Wednesday night.
Storm surge and hurricane warnings have been extended eastward along the coast of the Florida panhandle.
There are currently five tropical cyclones over the Atlantic basin, according to the National Hurricane Center. The last time this happened was in 1971.
President Donald Trump has signed an emergency declaration for 30 parishes in Louisiana, as requested by the state.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he learned of the approval just before his 2 p.m. press conference. The declaration means direct federal assistance will be availble to those parishes.
The state is working with Mississippi in its preparation for Hurricane Sally, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 2 storm tomorrow morning in Plaquemines Parish or Wednesday morning on the Mississippi coast, Edwards said. State officials in Louisiana are working with their counterparts in Mississippi, and Edwards has offered any resources Louisiana might not need to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves.
He also repeatedly issued a reminder that the cone the National Hurricane Center uses to depict the possible path of a storm can always shift and that effects are felt outside of the cone.
The 12,759 people sheltered in Louisiana — about 12,000 0f them in New Orleans — as a result of Hurricane Laura are being told to stay put.
"We’re going to be making sure we continue to care for you there," Edwards said. "We’re not going to be evacuating in advance of Hurricane Sally."
FEMA is bringing additional resources into Louisiana to deal with Hurricane Sally and will not be diverting resources away from Hurricane Laura recovery.
Sally reached hurricane strength with maximum sustained winds at 85 mph around 11 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center reports.
A report from NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft says the storm has "rapidly strengthened to a hurricane" and is about 135 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, heading west-northwest.
New Orleans Director of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness Colin Arnold reiterated during an 11:10 a.m. press conference that the predicted path of Hurricane Sally has shifted slightly east from yesterday's predictions.
"That’s encouraging in a way but what is still very known about Sally is the speed, slow, it’s not good for us," he said. "And then it’s wobbly."
Storm surge has already begun in some coastal areas, he said, and there are still several high tides to come. Mandatory evacuation has already occurred in those areas.
Mayor Latoya Cantrell said all 99 drainage pumps in New Orleans are ready and canals in New Orleans East have been drained "on the front end" in preparation for the heavy rain.
Ramsey Green, deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, said New Orleans can expect flooding, but couldn't say for sure how bad it will be.
“If you saw a tremendous amount of flooding in July of 2019 — we may see something to that effect or less," he said. "Less or more, we just don’t know. "
Cantrell reminded people to make sure their local catch basins are clear of debris and asked that they call 311 to report any problematic trees.
RTA service will be suspended at noon and trash pickup is canceled for tomorrow. City Hall will close at 3 p.m. Flights in and out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will be stopped at 1 a.m. Southwest Airlines has already canceled its flights routed through New Orleans.
Green also said a plan to secure the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel construction site is already underway.
The 61st Troop Command of the Louisiana National Guard is in New Orleans and coordinating with the city, the Coast Guard and the Army Corp of Engineers, Cantrell said.
All commissioned New Orleans police officers are on duty and the department's boats and high water vehicles are at the ready, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.
He issued a reminder that, as always, you should not drive through standing water.
The projected path of Tropical Storm Sally, which is expected to become a hurricane sometime Monday night, shifted a bit to the east Sunday night.
As of 10 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has expanded its hurricane warning area to the Alabama-Florida border. Southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi coast are still under a hurricane warning as well.
Storm surge in Southeast Louisiana is expected to be 7 to 11 feet, according to the NHC. Rainfall and the speed of the storm remain the primary concerns. Sally will move slowly, dropping 8 to 16 inches of rain — or 24 inches, in isolated areas.
Right now, the NHC reports Sally's maximum sustained winds are at 65 mph, and the storm is expected to strengthen and slow down. The center of Sally will move over the northwest Gulf of Mexico today, heading west-northwest at about 6 mph. The storm is expected to slow down and turn northwest overnight.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Sunday urged residents of Southeast Louisiana to make storm preparations.
"We have every reason to believe this storm presents a significant threat to the people of Louisiana," Edwards said. "We only have to go back a couple of weeks to a storm that moved from a tropical storm force to a Category 4 storm in just 36 hours."
We'll be following the development of Sally and the local response here throughout the day.