Hurricane Sally deluged the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama with catastrophic and life-threatening flooding as the storm, since downgraded to a tropical depression, crawled destructively inland. “It just unloaded,” Tim Booth, a semiretired truck driver in Loxley, an Alabama town off Mobile Bay, told the New York Times.
The storm — made worse by climate change and just the latest in a hurricane season so busy that officials are about to be forced to use the greek alphabet to name storms — dumped an estimated 30 inches of rain on Pensacola, Florida that effectively submerged the city’s downtown and caused a section to break off of the brand new Three Mile Bridge. In Mobile, Alabama, the storm destroyed massive oak trees in the city’s historic Mienville Square. As of Thursday morning, the storm was responsible for at least one death and had knocked out power for more than 500,000 people and was expected to continue through central Georgia and South Carolina.
“This thing coming in at a [Category] 1, kind of sucker-punched us, everybody. No one took it as seriously, including me, as we should have,” Gulf Shores, Alabama, Mayor Robert Craft told MSNBC. The storm actually made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane after intensifying rapidly just before coming ashore. Sally’s overwhelming rainfall is due, in part, to the fact that it moved “slower than a turtle in peanut butter … a bad thing we’re seeing more of because of climate change,” climate scientist Michael Mann wrote on Twitter.
Climate change is elevating flood risk in the U.S. by increasing the frequency of extreme precipitation and intensifying hurricane rainfall while sea levels raised by climate change exacerbate flooding risks. Science also indicates climate change is causing hurricanes, like Sally, to slow down, allowing the storms to dump more rain as the storms hover over affected areas for longer periods of time.
Ernest Nelson, a retired commercial fisherman in Bayou La Batra who has worked the water for decades, Alabama, where the New York Times reported where Sally was already turning roads into rivers on Tuesday agreed with climate scientists that storms are getting bigger and more intense. “No meteorologist. No college degree. Experience.” (USA Today, New York Times $, MSNBC, NBC, AP, Washington Post $, CBS, CNN, Daily Beast, ABC, Weather Channel, ; Storm names: Mashable; Outages: S&P Global, BBC; Bridge: WEAR; Oak Trees: AL.com; Climate links: New York Times $, Slow moving destruction: New York Times $; Video: Mashable; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, Flooding, 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season)