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Fire and Flooding: Dual Natural Disasters Hit Two Coasts

Hurricane Sally on the Gulf Coast and wildfires on the West Coast are impacting aviation across a broad section of the United States.

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Aviation was impacted on two fronts this week. On the West Coast, wildfires continue to rage, and a new hurricane was ready to make landfall at press time along the Gulf Coast.

The fires continue to be a major story, with hundreds of homes destroyed and more than half a million people forced to evacuate. There are 20 active major fires, some of which have merged over the past week.

And on the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Sally was looking to make landfall in Alabama. Meteorologists expected Mobile Bay in Alabama to be close to landfall. Sally is very different from Hurricane Laura, which hit the coast of western Louisiana two weeks ago as a strong Category 4 storm, with winds of almost 150 mph and sustained winds of 100 mph. The storm did extensive wind damage throughout the region, and Southland Field, in Sulphur, Louisiana,  was devastated, with multiple structures and aircraft destroyed.

Sally, on the other hand, is very slow moving, to the point that numerous commenters on the track of the storm thought the movement speed of the storm was in error. At this writing, the hurricane was moving at just 2 mph. And Sally, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane before dissipating, won’t be packing the winds that Laura brought, but it will threaten flooding and storm surges along a large section of the southeast United States.

The fires, in addition to shutting down major sections of airspace for firefighting operations, has created IFR conditions along much of the west coast, with primary training shut down in many locations due to poor visibility in smoke and haze. Forecasters expect scattered rain later this week, but the watchword for pilots in all of these affected areas is “caution.”

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