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Monday January 18th, 2021 2:54PM

Sally set to become hurricane and threaten U.S. Gulf Coast

By The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Sally slowed down Sunday as it churned northward toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, increasing the risk of heavy rain and dangerous storm surge before an expected strike as a hurricane.

Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Sally is expected to become a hurricane on Monday and reach shore by early Tuesday, bringing dangerous weather conditions, including risk of flooding, to a region stretching from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

“That system is forecast to bring not only damaging winds but a dangerous storm surge," said Daniel Brown of the Hurricane Center. ”Because it's slowing down it could produce a tremendous amount of rainfall over the coming days."

The system was moving west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph) early Sunday. It was centered 140 miles (230 kilometers) west of Apalachicola, Florida, and 240 miles (385 kilometers) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. On Sunday, Florida’s Gulf Coast was battered with windy, wet weather.

Pensacola, on Florida's Panhandle, was bracing for 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain.

Sally could produce rain totals up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) by the middle of the week, forecasters said. Its maximum sustained winds Sunday afternoon were 60 mph (95 kph).

This isn't the only storm in the Atlantic basin. Paulette gained hurricane status late Saturday and was expected to bring storm surge, coastal flooding and high winds to Bermuda, according to a U.S. National Hurricane Center advisory. Once a tropical storm, Rene was forecast to become a remnant low Monday. Tropical Depression Twenty was expected to strengthen this week and become a tropical storm by Tuesday, forecasters said.

“This week is essentially the peak of the hurricane season,” said Brown. “It is quite active across the tropics today.”

A mandatory evacuation has already been issued in Grand Isle, Louisiana, ahead of the storm. On Saturday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a mandatory evacuation order for Orleans Parish residents living outside of the parish’s levee protection system.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was scheduled to give a news conference on the storm Sunday. He declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana to Ocean Springs Mississippi, Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, including metropolitan New Orleans. A Hurricane Watch is in effect for east of Ocean Springs to the Alabama/Florida border.

All northern Gulf Coast states are urging residents to prepare.

“”It is likely that this storm system will be impacting Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While it is currently not being predicted as a direct hit to our coastal areas, we know well that we should not take the threat lightly," said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. She urged residents to prepare and stay informed of the storm's path in the coming days.

___

AP Radio's Julie Walker contributed to this report from New York

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