The remains of Hurricane Sally are forecast to bring heavy rain, possible flash flooding and gusty winds to Cherokee County and much of north Georgia starting Wednesday afternoon.
Current predictions on the storm's path project it to move slowly through north Georgia starting Wednesday, bringing with it rainfall of 2 to 6 inches or more and wind gusts in excess of 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Late Tuesday afternoon the NWS issued a flash flood watch for central and north Georgia from Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning.
In the meantime, local officials are working to prepare for flooding and falling trees.
Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency is monitoring the weather and ready for anything the storm might bring, Director Craig Millsap said Tuesday morning.
"As always, we ask the public to remain weather aware and be prepared as the storm nears our area," Millsap said. "We urge citizens to have several ways to be notified of severe weather alerts and not to rely simply on our siren system, as a host of variables can affect your ability to hear the sirens alert during severe weather."
People in Cherokee County can sign up to receive emergency alerts through the CodeRed system in which users choose how they want to receive alerts and what topics they would like to know about. To signup for CodeRed, simply text CHEROKEEALERT to 99411 or visit cherokeega-ema.org/codered.
Staff from Cherokee County public works are gathering traffic cones and barricades in preparation of closing flooded roads, if needed. They are also checking to make sure drainage systems, such as culverts aren't obstructed, county government spokeswoman Erika Neldner said Tuesday morning. They are also preparing equipment to clear roads blocked by trees, she said.
"From past experience we already have an idea what roads will flood if we get an extreme amount of rainfall," said Capt. Jay Baker, spokesman for the Cherokee Sheriff's Office. "Our agency also has barricades and we will have them ready for quick deployment to any problem areas."
The sheriff's office also has a group of deputies called the Field Incident Response Strike Team who drive four-wheel vehicles and also carry chainsaws to assist in clearing roads. "They can also respond to calls that deputies driving non 4x4 vehicles can’t get to," Baker said.
One of the biggest impacts dangerous weather can have on families is whether it forces the closure of local schools.
Cherokee County School District officials are already in contact with local governments and public safety agencies in advance of the storm to determine if it will be safe to operate if the remains of Sally come through the area as predicted.
"The determination as to whether to close schools for inclement weather is a complex process dependent upon a number of factors, with the ultimate desired outcome of what is best for students and their safety," Barbara Jacoby, communications director for the school system said Tuesday morning. "The final decision is made by the Superintendent of schools, based upon detailed recommendations from staff working closely with public safety agencies, city and county governments and the county’s Emergency Management Agency in the days and hours leading up to a predicted weather event. This coordination starts 48-72 hours ahead of the anticipated arrival of bad weather."
Heavy rains can also impact drinking water and wastewater systems, and the Cherokee County Water and Sewerage Authority is prepared for Sally, officials said.
According to CCSWA spokeswoman Lori Forrester, the utility's preparedness includes:
- Double power feeds on lift stations, booster stations and critical processes;
- Facilities staffed by operators around the clock who can assess changes in weather conditions and make changes to plant processes as needed;
- All water towers and critical stations are monitored electronically;
- Monitoring local weather conditions continually;
- Staff always on-call to correct any problems that arise.
The National Weather Service forecast for Cherokee County calls for a 60 percent chance of rain on Wednesday, increasing to 80 percent on Thursday and 60 percent on Friday. All three days' forecast calls for the potential for heavy rainfall.
Cherokee County experienced heavy rain and some downed trees from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
Millsap pointed out that the approach of Sally comes during Emergency Preparedness Month.
"The impending weather helps to drive home this year's theme of 'Disasters Don't Wait. Make Your Plan Today,' and reinforces the weekly topics for our citizens to make a plan, build a disaster supply kit, prepare for disasters, and teach youth about preparedness," Millsap said.