Hurricane Nate gathered strength and speed Friday and overnight, and might make landfall on the Mississippi coast near Gulfport or Biloxi, according to the National Weather Service.
Its expected course has also shifted to the west, meaning Athens and northeast Georgia might avoid the worst of the storm.
But the storm could still bring wind gusts of 40 mph and heavy rains to central and north Georgia beginning late Saturday and into Sunday, according to forecasters.
Nate’s forward motion is relatively fast at 22 mph, which is both good and bad news for north and central Georgia, said David Nadler of the National Weather Service’s Peachtree City weather station during an 11 a.m. Saturday webinar.
The increased speed means the storm will pass through more quickly, but it also means Nate will be stronger when it arrives than if it were moving more slowly.
Downed trees and power outages are likely, Nadler said.
There’s also the possibility of brief tornadoes. The east-northeast sector of the storm will saw through Georgia, and that’s the portion of “deepest instability,” he said.
The time when tornado potential is highest will be about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, he said.
The National Weather Service placed metro LaGrange, Atlanta and other northwest and north-central Georgia areas west of Interstate Highway 75 under a tropical storm watch. Athens is outside the tropical storm watch, but the watch area could expand as the storm progresses, Nadler said.
Much of north Georgia, including Gainesville, Blairsville, Rome and Dalton, are under a flash flood watch.
The most likely time during which tropical storm conditions would arrive in north and central Georgia is between 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
As of Saturday morning, forecasters had Athens right on the border of two wind probability zones; one predicting gusts of 20 to 30 mph, another forecasting gusts of 25 to 35 mph.
Atlanta could see winds of up to 40 mph, and Nate might bring gusts of 40 to 50 mph to northwest Georgia, according to forecasters.
However, All those forecasts are subject to change as Nate moves inland.
But the state can expect brief stronger gusts in rain bands as the storms moves north and east, along with stronger gusts over ridge tops and exposed areas, Nadler said.
The storm is expected to bring 1 to 3 inches of rain to north and central Georgia, though some areas could see higher amounts.
Beginning Sunday night into Monday, Nate is likely to have moved well north of the Athens area and weather conditions will calm, forecasters believe.
That means government offices and schools should be able to open as normal Monday, but workers who’d have to respond for blocked roads, power outages and the like are on standby, said Oconee County Emergency Management Agency Director C.J. Worden.
“We’re not really worried, but we’re preparing,” he said.
Power companies such as Jackson EMC were also preparing for the storm Saturday, with workers here as well as with cooperating utilities out of state on standby.
Jackson EMC’s April Sorrow advised homeowners to make sure cell phones and other electronic devices are charged, in case the power goes out. Because of the dangers of power surges, air conditioners should also be turned off before the storm arrives, and devices such as TV sets, computers and DVD players should be unplugged.
It’s also a good idea to secure outdoor items that might be pushed by high winds and cause damage, such as patio furniture, or move them indoors, she said.