Tropical Storm Sally is taking aim at New Orleans and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by Monday, bringing with it the possibility of a “life threatening storm surge” for areas of the Gulf Coast.
On Saturday, the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border — an area that includes metropolitan New Orleans.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a State of Emergency Saturday, noting on Twitter “much of Southeast Louisiana is in the storm’s cone.” Meanwhile, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered mandatory evacuations starting Sunday at 6 p.m. for residents outside the city’s levee system.
As Sally strengthens over the Gulf Coast in the coming days, storm surge is possible along the Gulf Coast shoreline starting Monday and hurricane conditions may begin in the warning area by early Tuesday, according to the Hurricane Center.
The storm is currently traveling west northwest at 8 mph and was located 45 miles west of Naples, Florida, as of 8 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. Maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph with higher gusts.
Impacts are forecast for Florida into next week as the storm is expected to track toward New Orleans.
Sally is the earliest S-named storm on record in the Atlantic, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University, beating the previous record-holder, Stan, which formed in October 2005.
“While we have had a tremendous number of named storms this year, we have only had one major hurricane so far this year,” Klotzbach told USA TODAY. “The 2020 hurricane season has been characterized by a ton of storms, but as of yet, the only major hurricane has been Laura. However, Paulette may become a major hurricane in the next few days.”
There are just three more storm names left for the 2020 season – Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred – before the Greek alphabet will be enabled. The Greek alphabet has only ever been used during the 2005 hurricane season, when the season which produced storms Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.
Forecasters are tracking a number of other systems as well. In the central Atlantic, Tropical Storm Paulette is expected to intensify into a hurricane Saturday night, Tropical Storm Rene may weaken in coming days and Tropical Depression 20 has formed over the central tropical Atlantic.
Tropical Storm Paulette is expected to approach Bermuda as a “dangerous” hurricane on Sunday and be near the island Sunday night and Monday, the hurricane center said.
As of 8 p.m. ET, it had maximum sustained winds at 70 mph and was 415 miles southeast of Bermuda, where a hurricane warning is in effect. Up to 6 inches of rain is expected through Monday.
Klotzbach said the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has had 51 days of named storms. “Only 5 other years in satellite era (since 1966) have generated 51+ named storm days through September 12: 1995, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2012,” he tweeted.
“Overall, the atmospheric and oceanic environment have been conducive for storm formation, with warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic providing more fuel for developing storms,” he told USA TODAY.
“In addition, we have a building La Niña in the tropical Pacific that has helped reduce vertical wind shear across most of the tropical Atlantic. Strong shear tears apart hurricanes, so less shear allows them to be able to develop and intensify.”
Contributing: Daniella Medina, Lafayette Daily Advertiser; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Tropical Storm Sally: Hurricane Watch for New Orleans