(TNS) - Hurricane Sally hit Category 2 status shortly before anticipated landfall Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center announced around 1 a.m.
Sally’s sustained winds reached 105 mph, as measured by an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft and Doppler weather radar in Mobile, Alabama, the NHC said. Category 2 wind speeds are 96-110 mph.
By 2 a.m., hurricane-force winds were beginning to spread onshore along the western coast of the Florida Panhandle and in Alabama.
The NHC issued an additional advisory at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday that said Sally continued to strengthen and its eye was growing better-defined. The hurricane could peak at a sustained wind speed of around 109 mph before landfall, the NHC said.
Hurricane Sally was still crawling north-northeast in the Gulf of Mexico near 2 mph. The storm was about 60 miles south-southeast of Mobile and 55 miles southwest of Pensacola at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Sally’s winds began to pick up around midnight. They had been holding steady earlier at 85 mph then inched up to 90 mph Tuesday night.
Landfall forecasts shifted Tuesday evening from the mouth of Mobile Bay east to Gulf Shores, with the current forecast calling for landfall near the Alabama/Florida border.
Hurricane-force winds extend out 40 miles from Sally’s center and tropical-storm force winds extend out 125 miles.
Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico from Gulf Shores, Alabama, to Navarre, Florida were being pounded by strong winds and storm-surge flooding, with historic rainfalls of 10-30 inches expected.
Strong winds and heavy rain also are expected in Jackson County, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said, with a flash-flooding remaining a threat. Minor coastal flooding along eastern-facing shorelines of Mississippi and southeast Louisiana also are possible.
Waves measuring 23 feet were reported late Tuesday night offshore from Orange Beach.
The National Weather Service in Mobile said rainfall had already exceeded 18 inches and torrential rains continued to batter the coast there.
A spotter near the Naval Air Station in Pensacola recorded 18.25 inches of rain from Sally by late Tuesday night, the NWS said.
At 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Hurricane Hunters announced on Twitter that they were beginning what should be their final flight into “this colossal snail that has been Hurricane Sally.”
The tweet closed by saying, “Please stay weather aware and keep safe!”
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