Athens and Northeast Georgia could see tropical storm conditions as early as 8 a.m. Monday morning, National Weather Service forecasters said in a noon webcast on Hurricane Irma’s march toward Georgia.
The storm’s path had shifted slightly to the east since Saturday, which could moderate the storm as it comes through Georgia. However, the storm could shift again, changing the outlook.
The shift means “maybe a little bit of good news” for northeast Georgia, with a lower chance of tornadoes when it reaches this part of Georgia, the forecasters said. The possibility is there, but “a little more isolated” according to the forecaster conducting Sunday’s webcast.
But there’s still plenty of danger in the coming storm, with winds gusting as high as 55 miles per hour between 2-8 p.m. Monday, they stressed.
Perhaps the major risk now, according to National Weather Service forecasters Keith Stell and Kyle Thiem, is falling trees and power poles, with downed power lines, damage to buildings and blocked roads.
That outlook had not changed much six hours later as the storm spun up the Florida peninsula and the University of Georgia’s student chapter of the American Meteorological Society rapidly put together another briefing for a small group of emergency management officials, supervised by UGA professor and former state climatologist David Stooksbury.
Rain was likely to begin around midnight or early Monday, intensifying around mid-day Monday along with wind speeds.
Worst case, Athens might get five to eight inches of rain, with sustained winds of 45 miles per hour, gusting up to 70, the students summed up. The best-case scenario was two to three inches of rain, with sustained winds of around 30 miles per hour, gusting up to 45..
Either way, or in between, the danger of falling trees, isolated tornadoes and flash flooding in flood-prone areas remained; the rain was likely to become intense.
The danger of falling trees is heightened because the storm will blow through overnight, when people are sleeping.
Flash flooding during the storm is a risk throughout the state, especially in flood-prone places such as like Mars Hill Road in Oconee County near the Oconee Connector.
People often underestimate the risk when waters overtop a road, said C.J. Worden, director of Oconee County’s Emergency Management Agency.
In Watkinsville and in places all over the state, emergency responders, school officials and others gathered Sunday for the National Weather Service webcast so they could listen and then talk about what they’d need to do to prepare for Monday and Tuesday.
Most area school systems had already announced they’d be closed Monday closed by early Sunday afternoon, along with the University of Georgia, the University of North Georgia and Piedmont College. The two universities and Athens Technical College will also suspend operations Tuesday.
Some government services will also be suspended. Athens-Clarke County’s residential waste pickup is canceled for the day, as are Leisure Services programs, though government offices would remain open, the government announced; Oconee County officials decided to close their offices and parks on Monday, however. Athens Transit bus routes will be reduced, similar to what the service provides while UGA is on summer break.
Advantage Behavioral Systems also announced a suspension of most activities on Monday, though its Miles Street Crisis Stabilization Unit will remain open.
To help the Athens area homeless, the Bigger Vision Community Shelter on North Avenue will open no later than 10 a.m. Monday, according to Athens-Clarke County officials. Should Bigger Vision reach its capacity, overflow will be accepted at the First Methodist and First Baptist churches in downtown Athens.
Even as the National Weather Service webcast began at noon Sunday, winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour in Atlanta because of the hurricane-induced pressure gradien. Atlanta, more westward, may be hit harder than Athens.
By 9 a.m. Monday, the Athens area could be seeing maximum sustained winds of 37 miles per hour, and about the same at 8 p.m. But the most likely time for the height of the wind would begin around mid-day.
The worst of the storm would likely be gone by Tuesday morning, the NWS forecasters said, with maximum sustained winds of around 23 miles per hour in Athens by 2 a.m. Tuesday and down nearly to single digits by 8 a.m. But winds could still be gusting much higher, up to 30 or 35 miles per hour, between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Tuesday, they said.
Most of the rain would come between early Monday morning and Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service forecasters said.
In south and middle Georgia, damage is expected to be much more intensive than here, with hurricane-level winds in some areas and widespread downed trees and power outages.