Will Tropical Storm Isaac be a drought buster for North Georgia or just a bust? A lot depends on the unpredictable nature of forecasting storms.
Early forecasts had Isaac, expected to become a hurricane sometime today, coming ashore in the Florida Panhandle and bringing heavy rainfall to much of drought-stricken Georgia.
But over the weekend, forecasters shifted Isaac’s projected path farther west and by the 5 p.m. forecast, Isaac was predicted to make landfall just east of New Orleans. Hurricane warnings were issued from east of Morgan City, La. — which includes the New Orleans area — to Destin, Fla.
Forecasters warn Isaac could be a strong Category 2 hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf Coast either late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
What impact North Georgia receives depends on where along the warning area the storm strikes. The farther west Isaac hits, the less impact the area will see.
Regardless, north and central Georgia could see the first rain bands move into the area by Tuesday morning, hours before the storm makes landfall, said Laura Belanger, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.
Belanger said the chance of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes would also increase for the state starting Tuesday.
The region could see heavy rainfall from a series of rain bands from Tuesday night through Wednesday. Rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches is likely, but could be higher if the storm tracks further east.
The chance of rain and thunderstorms would continue Thursday and Friday, but amounts would diminish.
Belanger said severe weather is most likely west of Interstate 75 and south of Interstate 20, although other areas could be vulnerable, too.
The rainfall could be beneficial for Georgia. Much of north and central Georgia is in an extreme or exceptional drought, according the U.S. Drought Monitor. The storm could also benefit the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, which includes Lake Lanier.
At 6 p.m. Sunday, Lake Lanier stood at 1,062.41 feet, nearly nine feet below full pool.
On Sunday, Isaac raked across the Florida Keys, bringing rain and strong winds. In Tampa, Republicans worked to reset plans for their national convention after deciding to cancel much of today’s first-day agenda.
The storm was on a course to pass west of Tampa, but it had already disrupted the Republicans’ schedule there because of the likelihood of heavy rain and strong winds that extended more than 200 miles from its center.
Even before reaching hurricane strength, Isaac caused considerable inconvenience, with more than 550 flights canceled at Miami International Airport and about 150 from Fort Lauderdale’s airport. There were scattered power outages from Key West to Fort Lauderdale affecting more than 8,000 customers, and flooding occurred in low-lying areas. No serious damage was reported.
Wind gusts of 60 mph were reported as far north as Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale. But while officials urged residents in southeast Florida to stay home, that recommendation was ignored by surfers and joggers on Miami Beach and shoppers at area malls.
And along the Gulf Coast, residents began preparing for what could be a Category 2 hurricane. A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 mph.
The Gulf Coast hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region.
Hurricane center forecasters are uncertain of the storm’s path because two of their best computer models now track the storm on opposite sides of a broad cone. One model has Isaac going well west and the other well east.
For the moment, the predicted track goes up the middle.
In Haiti, residents began to dig themselves out of the mud on Sunday, one day after Tropical Storm Isaac doused the Caribbean nation and killed eight people there and another two in neighboring Dominican Republic.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has declared a state of emergency as officials prepare for a hit from Isaac.
And in Lousiana, more than 50,000 residents of a southeast parish have been told to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Associated Press contributed to this report.