Hurricane Sally drifted in a slow crawl Tuesday toward the northern Gulf Coast, threatening dangerous storm surge and relentless rainfall that forecasters warned could trigger historic flooding as the storm was expected to hover in the area long after coming ashore.
“It’s going to be a huge rainmaker,” said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University. “It’s not going to be pretty."
The National Hurricane Center expects Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) when it makes landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm's sluggish pace made it harder to predict exactly where its center will strike, though it was expected to reach land near the Mississippi-Alabama state line.
The hurricane's slow movement not only delayed landfall, but also exacerbated the threat of heavy rain and storm surge. Sally remained a dangerous storm Tuesday even after losing power, its fiercest winds having dropped considerably from a peak of 100 mph (161 kph) on Monday.
With Sally’s uncertainty, Dothan-Houston County EMA Director Chris Judah said the storm has the potential to deliver heavy rainfall and flooding to parts of the Wiregrass, and emergency officials are taking precautions, including closing schools.
Most area schools will be closed on Wednesday and many have extended the closure through Thursday. Some schools are also planning to hold classes remotely. Additionally, many daycares and after-school programs in the Wiregrass have announced closures.
“The hurricane has slowed down to a crawl and we are looking at massive rainfall amounts for this area. We are expecting flash floods in low roadways,” Judah said. “There is also the possibility for severe weather Wednesday. I want the community to be prepared for thunderstorms and power outages.”
According to the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, the flash flood threat continues to increase and heavier rain moves in. Roughly 10 to 15 inches of rain is possible through Thursday across the DeFuniak Springs, Florida, area to Southeast Alabama. Predictions range from three to more than 10 inches of rain in some Wiregrass areas, depending on the track of the storm.
Judah and other Wiregrass EMA officials said forecasters are expecting heavy rainfall through Wednesday, which could lead to flooding. The officials add there is a chance of damaging winds and tornadoes.
“Everyone needs to be careful when driving in this storm. If you don’t have to be on the roadways, don’t. Stay home," Judah said. “I urge everyone to pay close attention to all media outlets for updates on the storm.
“If you see a road that is covered in water, stop and turn around. If a road has been closed by barricade, do not attempt to move the barricade. Seek an alternate route.”
The city of Dothan has been implementing preparedness plans since Monday, ensuring that emergency personnel have enough fuel for their vehicles and equipment and making sure that equipment is operational to respond to incidents as they arise.
“We have all the staff and equipment we need ready to go,” City Manager Kevin Cowper said. “So we’ll be watching the storm… we’ll be ready to meet whatever needs come up.”
The city has sent six Dothan Utilities workers with some equipment to Riviera Utilities in Foley near the Gulf Coast, which is expected to be severely impacted by Hurricane Sally. Those workers can be recalled immediately to Dothan if needed.
Some area schools, including Houston and Henry County schools and Dothan's Coleman Center, dismissed classes early on Tuesday and will remain closed Wednesday and Thursday. Dothan City Schools are also closed Wednesday and Thursday.
Geneva City Schools will conduct school virtually on Wednesday and make a decision about Thursday’s classes by noon Wednesday.
Geneva and Dale county schools and Daleville City Schools will close Wednesday and decide about Thursday classes at a later time. Ozark City Schools is only offering remote learning opportunities on Wednesday and Thursday.
Troy University announced all in-person instruction was canceled on Alabama campuses starting Tuesday at 5 p.m. through Thursday.
Regarding school closings, Cowper said it’s better to be safe than sorry, given the amount of rain expected.
Dothan’s after-school program will be closed through Thursday. The feeding program will serve supper Tuesday and meals will be served at lunch on Wednesday and Thursday.
Other local closures and cancellations include:
• Rose Hill Senior Center meal service
• Westgate Competition Pool
• All Dothan Leisure Services athletic events
• Dothan’s Forever Wild Trails
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