***UPDATE: (1:20 p.m.) FORSYTH COUNTY -- The University of North Georgia has canceled all classes and activities on all campuses – Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville and Watkinsville – due to the storm Wednesday, according to Kate Maine, spokeswoman for the college.
Forsyth County Schools is already out due to spring break.
Forsyth County is under a flash flood watch until Thursday, April 6 at 2 a.m., and Big Creek is under a flood warning.
Runoff into streams and rivers is expected to cause flooding in “some areas,” according to the National Weather Service.
In cooperation with the United States Geological Survey, the stage was monitored at 5.9 feet and rising as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. Flood stage is 7 feet.
The stage is forecasted to rise above flood stage by Wednesday night and continue to rise to near 7.3 feet by early Thursday morning. This may cause minor flooding of woodlands and fields along the creek between Cumming and Roswell.
“Flooding starts to affect portions of the Big Creek Greenway near Alpharetta, and some portions may become closed with around 1 foot of water,” the agency said. “This crest compares to a previous crest of 7.3 feet on June 19, 2003.”
The flash flood watch includes north central Georgia, where rainfall amounts are being predicted to average 1.5-2 inches, with locally higher amounts likely.
“A flash flood watch means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding … a very dangerous situation,” the agency said.
The Forsyth County Fire Department has responded to two more homes in south Forsyth for lightning strikes, bringing Wednesdays total to four. There were no injuries or structure fires at the second two fires.
A strike at a home on Eaglerock Drive in south Forsyth caused smoke in the home, and a home on Summerwind Way was shook by a strike and the fire alarm was set off.
Division Chief Jason Shivers said firefighters are prepared for any other potential fires caused by Wednesday’s storm.
Calls are coming in reporting more homes struck by lightning, and extremely heavy rain has returned. Officials are urging motorists to stay off the roads.
Shivers has confirmed that two house fires in Forsyth County were caused by lightning strikes Wednesday morning.
Shivers said the first fire, in southern Forsyth County, was nearly out when firefighters arrived, and the house sustained only minor to moderate lightning damage.
The second house that burned, on Gran Forest Drive off Buford Highway, was more severely damaged.
Shivers said the lightning appeared to have hit a pine tree next to the home then ran through the ground into the home's electrical system.
When firefighters arrived, they found fire coming from the second story, the attic and the area around the garage, Shivers said.
Firefighters were able to bring the fire under control, but the home sustained significant damage, according to Shivers.
Homeowner Jeff Evans said he was in the basement when he heard the lightning strike and that he saw a flash from an electrical panel. Not long after, the neighbors told him they could see fire coming from the attic of his home.
Evans credited firefighters with saving most of the home, especially his prized 1985 Fiat Spyder, which was stored in the garage.
Forsyth County and much of metro Atlanta and north Georgia have been issued a tornado watch Wednesday morning until the early afternoon as another storm rolls through the area.
According to the National Weather Service, the watch is in effect until 1 p.m. Wednesday in Forsyth.
A special weather statement from the agency said a strong thunderstorm was near Brookwood and Cumming just past 9 a.m., moving northeast at 55 miles per hour.
Hazards presented by this storm include 40-50 mph winds, nickel-sized hail and "frequent cloud to ground lightning."
"Expect minor damage to tree limbs and blowing around of light, unsecured objects," the statement said.
Tornado watches are issued when conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms or tornadoes. A warning is not issued until severe weather is imminent or has been sighted in the area.
Some locations in the path of this storm include: Cumming, Gainesville, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Sugar Hill, Suwanee, Buford, Flowery Branch, Oakwood, Rest Haven, Candler, Drew, Buford Dam-Lake Lanier Parks, Coal Mountain, Brookwood, Aqualand Park,
Chestatee, Murrayville, Oscarville and Lake Lanier Islands.
"People outdoors should seek shelter immediately," the statement said. "If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning."
Rain and thunderstorms are expected to last into Wednesday night, with damaging winds in excess of 60 mph, 2-inch hail or larger, "and several tornadoes will be main hazards. A few of the tornadoes could be strong and have long tracks on the ground, causing extensive damage.
"Heavy rain can also be expected with minor flooding possible."
Strong and gusty winds are predicted to continue on Thursday.