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As T-storms sweep NW Ga., hurricane nears

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Thunderstorms are forecast today and Wednesday across Northwest Georgia — but officials are looking ahead toward Thursday and the potential fallout from Hurricane Florence.

"We're going to monitor it all the way," Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington said. "If it starts moving south, that's going to change things for us."

Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.

The first effects were already being seen on barrier islands Monday as dangerous rip currents and seawater flowed over the state highway. People were told to prepare to evacuate communities up and down a stretch of coastline already identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

For many, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could carry torrential rains up into the Appalachian mountains, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous weather across a wide area.

Herrington said he's staying in close contact with state EMA officials. He's already spoken with the public works directors in Rome and Floyd County and representatives of Georgia Power Co.

"We want to make sure there are resources in the area if anything happens," he said.

Larry Brooks, executive director of the American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia, said they've been preparing response vehicles, material resources and their network and leadership teams since Sunday.

"While we hope Georgia will not receive any direct impacts, it is our wish to be prepared with an adequate response whatever the final path of Florence may be," Brooks said.

The National Weather Service is forecasting scattered to numerous thunderstorms over the next two days, primarily in the afternoons and evenings.

A few storms could be strong with gusty winds, frequent lightning and heavy rainfall — although winds for the most part are expected to be calm. The high today is expected to be near 87, with a low around 69 this evening. Wednesday's forecast is much of the same.

The weather hazards for Thursday through Sunday, if any, will greatly depend on the track of Hurricane Florence, according to the NWS.

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats along with life-threatening freshwater flooding.

Behind it, Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open Atlantic as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.