Hurricane Sally crashed into the southern United States in slow motion, causing torrential rains and storm surges, destroying boats and shattering bridges.
It made landfall in Category 2 and although now a tropical storm, its glacial rhythm means there are still life threatening warnings.
Pensacola, Florida was hit hard, with a loose barge knocking down part of the Bay Bridge.
There are also storm surge warnings for Alabama as Sally heads north.
At 4:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. GMT), Sally was 88 miles north of Pensacola and near the Alabama border. Its speed of 7 mph in a northeast direction is almost a sprint – at one point it was 3 mph.
Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama at 4:45 a.m. local time on Wednesday with maximum wind speeds of 105 mph.
The latest speeds are rated at around 60mph, but it was the torrents of precipitation and strong storm surges that were its most damaging factors.
Hurricane Sally is one of many storms in the Atlantic Ocean, with officials running out of letters to name hurricanes as they near the end of their annual alphabetical list.
What’s the latest on the damage?
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that “catastrophic and potentially fatal flooding continues over parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama.”
Precipitation is measured in feet rather than inches in some places, but 18 inches (45 cm) has been recorded in many areas.
Flooding to a depth of 5 feet hit the center of Pensacola. The storm surge was the third worst ever to hit the city. Police told people not to go outside to see the damage, saying, “It slows down our progress. Please stay home! ”
While the winds didn’t have the devastating power of deadly Hurricane Laura, which hit last month, they still ripped the boats off the moorings and sent a barge to make a quarry on the Bay Bridge under construction. They were certainly tall enough to knock over high-sided vehicles.
Another barge broke off and headed for the Escambia Bay bridge, but luckily ran aground.
The Escambia County Sheriff said he did not expect the devastation caused by Sally.
Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who lives in Mobile, Alabama, told Reuters: “The rain is what comes out of this one: it’s unreal. ”
There remains “a danger of fatal flooding” on the Florida-Alabama border, the NHC said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said many areas around Mobile were experiencing historic flood levels and urged people to heed the warnings.
The pier at Gulf State Park in Alabama sustained significant damage.
The latest on power outages from the poweroutage.us website lists some 290,000 customers without power in Alabama and another 253,000 in Florida.
In addition to the downed pylons, many trees were uprooted.
Rain appeared to be falling on the Alabama side, leading to submerged roads as the storm approached the shore. Other areas along the coast have also been affected, with beaches and highways flooded in Mississippi and low-lying properties in Louisiana covered by rising waters.
Alabama, Florida and Mississippi all declared states of emergency before the storm.
Why this slow pace and what’s next?
John De Block of the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, told the New York Times that Sally was drifting “like a kid in a candy store.”
Sally’s pace may be linked to climate change, experts say. A 2018 study in Nature magazine found that the speed at which hurricanes and tropical storms move over an area decreased by 10% between 1949 and 2016, a decrease linked to an increase in total precipitation.
“Sally has a feature that you don’t see often, it’s a slow forward speed and it’s going to make flooding worse,” NHC deputy director Ed Rappaport told The Associated Press.
Besides Sally, four other tropical cyclones – Paulette, René, Teddy and Vicky – swirl in the Atlantic Ocean basin.
If only one more storm is officially named – Wilfred has already been chosen – meteorologists will run out of shortlisted names for the rest of the year and will therefore start naming new storms after the Greek alphabet.