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Hurricane Sally brings fears of dangerous strong storm surge: What you need to know

ABC News logo ABC News 9/16/2020
a sign on a wooden bench: A cross honoring those killed by Hurricane Katrina stands in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images A cross honoring those killed by Hurricane Katrina stands in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La.

Hurricane Sally, which made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a powerful Category 2 hurricane early Wednesday, is bringing dangerous storm surge to the Gulf Coast.

Sally is a slow-moving hurricane, which further enhances the duration of potential storm surge and heavy rain.

Here's how storm surge works:

As pressure falls in the hurricane's center, water levels rise. The water accumulates while the storm is still over the open ocean.

a long road with grass on the side of the road: An aerial view from a drone shows boats and vehicles along the side of route 46 as people try to put them on higher ground before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images An aerial view from a drone shows boats and vehicles along the side of route 46 as people try to put them on higher ground before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La. MORE: ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee explains how hurricanes form

  When the hurricane closes in on land, its strong winds push that water toward the coast and up onto land, creating walls of water sometimes as high as 20 feet.

a sign on a wooden bench: A cross honoring those killed by Hurricane Katrina stands in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images A cross honoring those killed by Hurricane Katrina stands in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020, in Shell Beach, La. a man riding a wave on a surfboard in the water: This RAMMB/NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Sally off the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 14, 2020. © RAMMB/NOAA/NESDIS/AFP via Getty This RAMMB/NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Sally off the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 14, 2020.

The danger to people inside houses on the coast is the deluge of water that can flood homes and overpower walls rapidly.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, at least 1,500 people died "directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge," the National Hurricane Center said. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, many homes filled quickly with water that reached levels of 8 to 9 feet.

a man and a woman sitting on a bed: John Dixon, his wife Sabrina Young, and Erika Crain, talk about their experiences while at the Hancock County Evacuation Shelter in Kiln, Miss., in preparation for Hurricane Sally as it approaches the Gulf Coast, Sept. 14, 2020. © Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger via USA Today Network John Dixon, his wife Sabrina Young, and Erika Crain, talk about their experiences while at the Hancock County Evacuation Shelter in Kiln, Miss., in preparation for Hurricane Sally as it approaches the Gulf Coast, Sept. 14, 2020.

The risks can be even greater if storm surge combines with high tide, creating a devastating, rapid rise in water levels.

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