As Hurricane Irma bears down on the entire state of Florida and potentially makes a direct impact as a major storm in Georgia, Forsyth County is currently in the cone of uncertainty for where the Category 5 storm may travel this weekend and early next week.
Follow this story for updates to school closings, local responses, shelter openings and any other information you may need to know to prepare for and weather the storm.
Friday, Sept. 8, 3:05 p.m.
The National Weather Service issued a hydrologic outlook for central and north Georgia, including Forsyth County, Atlanta and the metro region, that warns of “periods of heavy rain and isolated flash flooding and river flooding Monday and Tuesday.”
Storm rainfall amounts of 3-6 inches are possible for portions of north and central Georgia early next week, with locally higher amounts to be expected.
“Hurricane Irma will begin spreading rain into parts of central Georgia Sunday and Sunday night,” the agency says. “As Irma moves into north and central Georgia as a tropical storm Monday and Tuesday, heavy rain will spread across north and central Georgia.
“As Irma continues to weaken into a tropical depression, it will stall across the southeast producing additional rainfall Wednesday and Thursday, but amounts are uncertain at this time.”
Soils are wet across the area, prompting concern of “both rural and urban flooding” from rainfall and runoff.
Gov. Nathan Deal told a news conference Friday he is not expanding his evacuation order affecting Georgia’s six coastal counties, according to The Associated Press.
Deal noted Irma’s path remains unpredictable and may still change and is still urging the state’s nearly 540,000 coastal residents to evacuate ahead of the storm even as forecasts show its center now entering far inland after churning up the Florida peninsula.
The storm's center is not expected to reach Georgia until Monday, with it potentially making its way to Atlanta and Forsyth County late Monday or on Tuesday morning. Forecasts show it could enter the state anywhere from the Atlantic coast to the Alabama state line.
The National Weather Service says Irma could still slam coastal Georgia with dangerous storm surge. While the storm could arrive as a weakened tropical storm, some areas would still face heavy rains and an elevated risk of tornadoes.
Deal expands state of emergency for 64 additional counties
Friday, Sept. 8, 3:59 p.m.
Gov. Nathan Deal has expanded the state of emergency in Georgia to include a total of 94 counties.
With the storm's forecast shifting west Friday, the expansion was for 64 additional counties.
Mandatory evacuations for coastal areas east of Interstate-95 and all of Chatham County remain in place, and contraflow on I-16 will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The additional counties include: Baker, Baldwin, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bibb, Bleckley, Brooks, Calhoun, Chattahoochee, Clay, Colquitt, Cook, Crawford, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Harris, Houston, Irwin, Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, Lamar, Lanier, Laurens, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marion, Meriwether, Miller, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, Muscogee, Peach, Pike, Pulaski, Quitman, Randolph, Schley, Seminole, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taylor, Telfair, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Troup, Turner, Twiggs, Upson, Washington, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox, Wilkinson and Worth counties.
A state of emergency now exists in the following 94 counties: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Baker, Baldwin, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bibb, Bleckley, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Bulloch, Burke, Calhoun, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Chattahoochee, Clay, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Crawford, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Harris, Houston, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Lamar, Lanier, Laurens, Lee, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Macon, Marion, McIntosh, Meriwether, Miller, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, Muscogee, Peach, Pierce, Pike, Pulaski, Quitman, Randolph, Schley, Screven, Seminole, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Tattnall, Taylor, Telfair, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Troup, Turner, Twiggs, Upson, Ware, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox, Wilkinson and Worth counties.
Forsyth County’s Emergency Management Agency recommends having the following items and more in case of bad weather or other disasters.
- One gallon of water for drinking and sanitation per person per day for at least three days
- Non-perishable food to last at least three days
- Battery-powered or hand crank radios and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Extra batteries for radios and flashlights
- Whistles for signaling for help
- Prescription and non-prescription medications and glasses
- Fluids with electrolytes
- Extra food and water for pets
- Sleeping bag for each person
To view the full disaster supply kit and additional items, go to ForsythCo.com/Departments-Offices/Emergency-Management-Agency/Disaster-Supply-Kit.
Forsyth County Schools closings and delays
Friday, Sept. 8, 2:42 p.m.
All Forsyth County Schools after-school activities and athletics have been canceled for Monday, Sept. 11 due to the storm, including all after-school childcare programs and adult classes at the Board of Education and Professional Development Center.
"We will continue to monitor weather conditions throughout the weekend," said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the school system. "Any additional cancellations will be made if an when necessary."
District officials are asking school staff to ensure outside items are brought inside or secured on all school campuses by Monday morning.
As of now, Forsyth County Schools will be open next week as Hurricane Irma looms to the southeast of Florida and may directly impact Georgia and Forsyth County.
Forecast models change by the day and even by the hour, so decisions on closing schools and agencies may change, too.
“Forsyth County Schools has been in communication with our local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) to monitor the hurricane and will continue to do so throughout the weekend and next week,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the school system.
She said school closings will be announced on local media, the district’s website and on the automated voice service at (770) 887-2461.
Subscribers to the district’s eNewsletter will receive an email notification on closings or delays.
Closings are also posted on social media.
Floridians fleeing the hurricane are causing Atlanta’s freeways, especially Interstate-75, to light up with brake lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Forsyth County Fire Department response and preparedness
Friday, Sept. 8, 11:30 a.m.
The Forsyth County Fire Department is on alert and monitoring the westward change in forecast models for Hurricane Irma, which currently shows Forsyth County being on the northeast corner of the storm, “which is one of the more risky places to be,” Division Chief Jason Shivers said.
“If the track stays as planned, we absolutely expect to experience tropical storm-style weather here with heavy rains and heavy gusts of wind.”
Shivers said emergency personnel are having “regular staff meetings and weather briefings” and that plans and paths can change by the hour.
Two firefighters who are members of the National Guard have been deployed to southeast Georgia in response to Gov. Nathan Deal’s call to activate up to 5,000 members to be on state active duty for response and recovery efforts.
Shelters, openings and free access
Atlanta Motor Speedway has opened its camping facilities free of charge to evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma and seeking temporary refuge.
AMS is equipped to handle thousands of campers during its annual NASCAR weekend and has opened both its RV and tent campgrounds. Adjacent to its unreserved campground, The Rinnai Shower Station camper bath house will be accessible for campers to use hot showers and restroom facilities for free.
Visit atlantamotorspeedway.com or call (770) 946-4211 for more information.
The Atlanta Braves are offering free tickets to their four-game series against the Miami Marlins to fans from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina displaced by the hurricane.
Anyone showing a valid ID with an address in Florida or one of the evacuated counties in Georgia or South Carolina can attend the game for free.
Georgia Tech is also offering free tickets to its home football opener against Jacksonville State to Irma evacuees and their immediate families.
The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m., and evacuees can redeem tickets beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the stadium in downtown Atlanta.