ATLANTA — May 9 through May 15 is this year's Hurricane Preparedness Week. The count down is on to the start of the 2021 Atlantic season.
Those who live in Atlanta or North Georgia for any number of years, know that although the area is not right on the coast, many hurricane seasons impact the state by landfalling tropical systems.
Last year, North Georgia was impacted by the remnants of Sally, Delta and Zeta. The impacts from Hurricane Zeta were the most significant of the three, with widespread power outages that lasted for days in many parts of the metro.
Between the years 1950 and 2019, there have been 26 named storms to cross within 100 miles of Atlanta. But tropical storms and hurricanes are much larger than just 100 miles across. So in North Georgia, it's important to remember to always be Hurricane Ready each summer and fall.
What impacts we get from tropical systems in North Georgia:
Impacts from landfalling tropical systems can stretch for hundreds of miles inland. In North Georgia and metro Atlanta, residents experience three main threats from landfalling tropical systems: flooding rains, damaging winds, and tornadoes.
Heavy rain and flood threat - Tropical systems bring deep, tropical moisture with them and can produce impressive rainfall rates that last for hours.
In some cases, rain totals could exceed double-digit totals in parts of North Georgia, like in 1994 from Tropical Storm Alberto. Although not a hurricane, Alberto slowly trudged through southern Alabama to west Georgia, then looped back westward.
Over this multi-day journey, it brought immense rain amounts to western Georgia. The maximum rainfall was over 27 inches in Americus, Georgia. But half a foot rain totals were found on the southwest side of the Atlanta metro as well. Many roads and bridges were closed and damaged. Up until Michael in 2018, Alberto was the costliest tropical system for the state of Georgia.
Damaging wind threat - As a hurricane moves inland, it looses its available energy from the warm waters of the ocean or gulf and gradually weakens. So although in Atlanta we may not see hurricane force sustained winds, the city can get tropical storm conditions with some landfalling systems.
There have been many storms through the years that down trees and power lines, like Opal in 1995. But a much more recent example of this impact from tropical systems is Zeta from October of 2020.
Power outages around the metro were widespread and it took several days for the power to be restored. At the peak, more than 1 million outages were reported across the area.
Tornado threat - North Georgia's tornado threat from tropical systems usually happens when storms make landfall along the Gulf of Mexico and track north or northeastward somewhere near or just northwest of our area. The tornadoes usually happen in the outer rain bands of the storm, often in the right front quadrant of the storm, where the most wind shear and instability is present. These are usually brief and weak, but still can cause damage.
Many past storms have produced numerous tornadoes in the area. Last year, the remnants of Delta produced 7 tornadoes across the area. Some past storms have produced even more. Katrina in 2005 was responsible for 18 tornadoes across North Georgia.
Hurricane Season Outlook - More Active Than Normal
This hurricane season may once again prove to be more active than the climatological average for the Atlantic Basin. NOAA's hurricane forecast will be released Thursday, May 20th. But many other outlets, including Colorado State University, have already released hurricane forecasts for the season. CSU's initial forecast on April 8th called for 17 named storms, 8 of which hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, all above the new climatological averages.
It only takes one to cause damage to your house, neighborhood, and community to make it a bad hurricane year. Always be ready for severe weather, it can happen any time of year!