The non-stop torrential rain spawned by the slow-moving Hurricane Sally that pounded the Wiregrass for almost two days, closing schools and governmental offices, is forecast to give way to drier conditions Thursday, but the storm’s impact will be felt for days, weeks, or longer.
Officials said Wednesday after Sally was downgraded from a hurricane that the significant rainfall will create potential flooding of rivers and streams, many not cresting until Thursday or Friday, possible road and infrastructure damage, and the yet-to-be-determined financial impact on agribusiness, including peanut farmers who just started the annual harvest.
Emergency officials also said until Sally leaves the area on Thursday, flash floods are possible and residents need to be aware.
Dothan-Houston County EMA Director Chris Judah said rainfall totals late Wednesday afternoon ranged between 5-7 inches in the Dothan area, and he anticipated that amount to be doubled before the storm moves east.
Coffee County EMA officials said Enterprise recorded more than 8 inches by mid-afternoon and were expecting more. In nearby north Florida, rain totals surpassed 10-plus inches with more rain expected.
The drenching rain also affected roads, making several impassable due to standing water. Emergency personnel were limited in checking all roadways during the storm, especially those in rural areas that are not paved and less traveled.
Judah warned drivers to be aware of road conditions, even when the rain stops.
“If you see standing water on the roadway, turn around for your safety. Do not attempt to cross,” Judah said.
The area’s agribusiness, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael two years ago, is waiting to see how the deluge impacts this year’s crops.
“We are definitely getting more rain than our farmers needed, and more rainfall is expected until Thursday,” Henry/Houston County Extension Agent Jimmy Jones said. “Right now, as long as we don’t receive five or more inches, I believe the peanut and cotton crops will be OK.
“The main thing farmers need is for Sally to move on with plenty of sun and slight winds to follow to help dry out the peanuts turned up. For farmers who don’t have peanuts turned up at this time, well, they need the sun and slight winds to dry the ground so they can get back in the field to spray or turn the peanuts up.”
According to Jones, if sun and slight winds follow the rain, farmers will be able to return to the fields in three to five days depending on soil type.
“Thankfully, peanut harvest season just started, so a majority of the peanuts have not been turned up,” Jones said. “But, on the other hand, we do have some farmers in Henry County who have a great deal of peanuts turned up and were ready to be harvested. But, as long as farmers see sunshine soon, I still believe we will have dodged a bullet when it comes to our cotton and peanut crops.”
Despite weather warnings being issued, Judah said early property damage was minimal, and only a few sporadic power outages had been reported.
Ahead of Sally, area schools and daycares closed for Wednesday and many announced they will remain closed on Thursday. A few schools also continued classes remotely.
Additionally, several Wiregrass city and county offices shut down early on Wednesday, and residents should check in advance to make sure the office is open on Thursday.
Some area businesses also closed on Wednesday, including Dothan’s northside Walmart, which is scheduled to reopen at 7 a.m. Thursday.
A homeless shelter was set up at Dothan’s First Baptist Church’s family life center, according to Love in Action, a Dothan nonprofit that assists those in need.
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