The red area shows the most likely area for tornadoes to develop today. (National Weather Service graphic)
ALBANY — Powerful storms that have spawned tornadoes and claimed at least 30 lives continued to move eastward today, even as Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state.
In the Albany area, about two-thirds of an inch of rain has fallen so far today at the weather station at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, where winds kicked up to a steady 29 mph with gusts of 40 mph by 1 p.m. By 2 p.m., they had dropped to 23 mph with gusts topping out at 33 mph.
The high winds and gust coupled with roads slick from rain could make for hazardous driving in the area. Forecasters say thunderstorms when they develop may also bring tornadoes and damaging hail.
So far, there have been no severe damage reports in Georgia, though some parts of the state have had power outages. There was an unconfirmed sighting of what was believed to be a tornado in Troup County today. There were some downed lines in the metro Atlanta area today.
For Southwest Georgia, National Weather Service officials have issued a flash flood watch for counties along the Florida line up to Lee and Ben Hill counties. Thunderstorms are expected to produce heavy rainfall in some parts, dumping more than 2 inches of rain in an hour in some spots.
By the time the hazardous weather watch expires Wednesday night, NWS officials say some isolated rainfall totals in the region could top 8 inches. With the soil already having high moisture from previous rains, the saturated areas will be more prone to flash floods, forecasters said.
The area’s almost certain to get rain Wednesday, with the forecast calling for a 70 percent chance that will taper to 40 percent Thursday and Friday before dropping to 20 percent Friday night. Saturday is expected to be mostly sunny.
Reuters reported today that at least 30 people — 23 of whom were in the two hardest-hit states, Mississippi and Arkansas — were killed by the storm system over the past three days. At least 200 others have been injured and some small towns have been nearly leveled.
“We will see tornadoes again today and unfortunately, the areas that are under the gun today are the same ones that were under the gun yesterday,” said Bill Bunting, operations chief at the National Weather Service’s Storm Predictions Center in Norman, Okla., told Reuters
Southern and eastern Mississippi as well as central and western Alabama were under the highest threats for tornadoes, damaging winds and hail, he said.
Tens of thousands of customers along the path of the storm were without power on Tuesday morning, with the worst outages in parts of Alabama and Georgia, utility companies reported.
In western North Carolina, fire department personnel used boats to rescue people from homes and vehicles hit by flash floods during the night.
The White House said President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Arkansas and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Some tornadoes registered an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale that measures strength, meaning they packed winds of about 150 mph, according to preliminary estimates from the National Weather Service in Alabama.
In Tupelo, Miss., which was in the path of a tornado on Monday, police were going house to house today, searching for victims and trying to seal any gas leaks that could fuel fires.
More than 2,000 houses and 100 commercial properties were damaged by a tornado that ripped through the city on Monday, officials said.
Officials were also picking through the rubble in Lincoln County, Tenn., near the Alabama state line, where a tornado touched down on Monday, killing two people.
On Monday, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for Georgia, freeing up all state resources needed for preparation and response in the counties targeted by the storm.
“At this juncture, we’ve declared the emergency for the entire state because it’s impossible to pinpoint where the weather will hit,” Deal said. “Georgia is threatened at least through (today) and perhaps into Wednesday. We’re prepared now and we’ll be ready for recovery should we, God forbid, experience tornado damage or flooding.”