NOTE: This was written specifically for extension agents in Georgia but the information is generally true for the entire Southeast.

Meteorologists and storm-watchers have been watching the progress of Hurricane Irma for the last week as it moved from off the west coast of Africa to its present position east of Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles Islands.  As of this morning it had strengthened to a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds of 175 miles per hour.  While its present track is towards the west northwest, longer-term models project that it will make a sharp turn to the north later in the week, which could potentially threaten parts of the Southeast including Georgia. Because there is the potential for impacts on Georgia starting as soon as Saturday (although most likely they would not occur until Sunday or later depending on where in Georgia you are located) I am providing this general information to help guide your planning. Please keep in mind that I am not an official forecaster and that this note is for information only.  You should get official forecasts from the National Hurricane Center at or from your local National Weather Service office. If the hurricane does come over your location, then you should follow official information from your local Emergency Manager regarding evacuations or other steps that you might need to take.

Irma’s present path is expected to take it north of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba and south of the Florida peninsula over the next several days. By Sunday morning, it is expected to take a sharp turn to the north.  The timing of the turn will be critical for determining exactly where the storm makes landfall. If it turns sooner, then the east coast of Florida will be in the path of the storm. If it turns later, then Tampa and the west coast of Florida could be in the direct path. Or it could move directly up the Florida peninsula if the turn happens somewhere in between. By Friday morning we should have a much better sense of what is likely to happen.

If you are in south Georgia, you could see impacts from the storm as early as Saturday, although most likely you will not see much until Sunday morning.  The major impacts from the storm in Georgia are likely to be strong winds, locally heavy rains and potential storm surge and high waves if you are along the coast. Some tornadoes are also possible. Because the storm is so powerful, the strong winds could spread out a long way from the center of the storm, so do not let down your guard if the center does not come close to you. When Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey, we had some injuries in Georgia due to falling limbs associated with the gusty winds that occurred here. With wet soils and trees that have been stressed from droughts in previous years, I expect a lot of trees to fall, cutting electrical power to many locations if the storm does not weaken as it moves up from Florida.

If you have outdoor activities or meetings planned for next weekend or early next week, particularly if you are in the southern half of Georgia, you will want to watch the weather situation carefully over the next few days to see where Irma is predicted to go. I think it is too early to cancel any events at this point but you should be prepared to act later in the week if the forecasts indicate Irma is headed this way. You should encourage people to take the basic precautions they should have in place for every hurricane, including preparing a hurricane kit, storing fresh water, batteries, and other necessities to cover several days without power, and preparing a plan to evacuate if you live in a low-lying area or along the coast. Since power may be out, it would be wise to make sure you have gas and cash for several days just as a precaution. Because Irma is moving along at a pretty good clip, we do not expect to see the amount of rain that Texas received from Harvey, but local areas could see some fresh-water flooding. Because of that, agricultural producers may wish to move machinery and livestock to higher terrain. Depending on the exact path and strength of the storm, some coastal areas may need to be evacuated due to potential storm surge, but it is too early to evacuate now because if the path shifts, you could be moving into trouble rather than away from it.

I will be posting updates on my blog as well as on Facebook at SEAgClimate and on Twitter at @SE_AgClimate through the week. I am also happy to answer general questions at 706-310-3467, although I cannot give personalized forecasts.