Georgia has a perfect balance of natural, man-made, and historical treasures. The mountains, rivers, skyscrapers, roots to the Civil Rights Movement, Coca-Cola origins, and Southern hospitality draws more than 100 million tourists to the Peach State annually.
Unfortunately, natural disasters are also drawn to Georgia. In recent years, an article highlighted the state as the second-most apocalyptic US state, not because “The Walking Dead” was filmed there, but because of the weather-related hazards that have amounted to billions of dollars in damages.
What natural disasters does Georgia have?
Georgia’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, tornadoes, tropical storms, wildfires, floods, landslides, and power outages. Other less significant disasters include winter storms in the Northern part of the state and droughts. Between 1953 and 2019, Georgia declared 68 major disasters, in which severe storms and hurricanes happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Severe storms are dangerous because they are capable of producing a lot of damage, but many don’t see them for what they are. You may be enjoying a picnic lunch outdoors, when all of a sudden a thunderstorm creeps in bringing heavy rainfall, lightning, and possibly hail. Lightning from afar can still reach you outside the scope of the storm, so even if it’s not raining, you’re vulnerable just by being outside. Most thunderstorms only last 30 minutes or so. This can become a problem because if it brings in too much rain, you run the risk of flash floods. In Georgia, you can expect thunderstorms to bring in wind speeds of more than 58 mph, as well as hail that is larger than 1-inch in diameter. These storms are likely to occur anytime during the spring and summer months, but especially in July.
If you’re not already prepared for severe storms in Georgia, you should learn the signs of an approaching storm, set up weather alerts on your phone, and be ready to take shelter when a storm threatens your area. Lightning and hail can become deadly, but you can be safe if you wait the storm out in an interior room of your home. Strong winds can also be especially damaging, so remember to stay indoors until the storm passes. If you find yourself outdoors and have no building to take temporary refuge in, wait inside your car— just be sure not to touch the electronics or hold your phone if it’s connected to the car outlet. For more severe storm safety tips, check out our guide here.
Georgia averages 30 tornadoes each year, however, there have been years, (like 2017) when at least 102 tornadoes were recorded. Even though tornados are possible at any time of the year, Georgia experiences most of them between March and May, with a peak during April. Tornado Alley is not defined by any official means, but still, Georgia is not considered to be in that group of states. Lately, however, there has been talk about incorporating it into the group since it has seen increased tornado activity in recent years. Fulton County is specifically targeted when it comes to tornado activity since it has seen a large number of recurring twisters in the same area.
Georgia experienced a tornado outbreak in 2008, where over 40 tornadoes were seen within a 24-hour window. This caused major structural damage and became a record-breaking event for the state.
You should always be prepared to take shelter for a tornado. Twisters can occur during any time of the year so when you see or hear one approaching in the distance, or receive a tornado warning, find a secure structure where you can take shelter immediately. The best places to go would be the basement of a home or a storm shelter, but if that’s not an option, go to an interior room of the home. Being outdoors or in a vehicle is quite dangerous since twisters can be powerful enough to lift and toss anything along their path. Find a complete guide on tornadoes here!
3. Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Only 7% of all hurricanes ever hit Georgia, in fact, only 20 hurricanes have made landfall in Georgia since 1851. Even though that statistic is low, the state receives a lot of the storm's residual rain and winds. Tropical storms are much more likely— the only difference between the two being the sustained wind speeds of tropical storms don’t exceed 74 mph. Still, those strong winds can wreak havoc.
Georgia was heavily impacted by Hurricane Michael in 2018, even though it made landfall in neighboring Florida. For instance, it rained almost 8 inches, it brought in 115 mph winds, it blocked 127 roads and 1 bridge, it sparked 12 tornado warnings, it caused widespread power outages to over 400,000 people and 1 known fatality.
Tropical storms can bring in massive amounts of rain, strong winds, and storm surges. This makes your home susceptible to damage from flying debris, fallen trees, and the possibility of flooding and flash flooding. If you’re told by public officials to evacuate prior to a tropical storm, you should do so. If you’re sheltering in place, I recommend protecting your windows and doors with storm shutters or plywood to prevent major damage. As the storm passes, take refuge in an interior room of the home, such as a hallway or closet. These areas provide a little more protection in case your windows or doors become broken. For more tropical storm mitigation and survival tips, take a look at our guide.
According to the Georgia Forestry Commission, fire crews respond to more than 8,000 wildfires each year. That’s a lot of fires! But in terms of acres burned, they average out to 4-5 acres per fire. The leading causes of these fires are human-caused. The majority of them are due to the careless burning of debris, downed live power lines, and an average 324 of them are linked to arson. Other fires are linked to natural causes, such as lightning bolts, such as one of the fires that made history in the state.
On April 16th, 2007, after a long period of drought, a fire was sparked by a downed power line in the southeastern area of Georgia. In less than a week, the fire reached the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. On May 5th, a different fire was started by a lightning strike and within 15 days merged itself with the first fire. Within two months, these fires burned almost 442,000 acres and cost roughly $140 million in damages and rehabilitation efforts.
Since wildfires are a major threat, I definitely recommend developing a family action plan and reviewing it each year prior to wildfire season. Your action plan should include a home evacuation plan (choose at least two safe ways to exit your home), a communication and reunification plan where you determine how you will get in touch with your spouse or who will pick up the kids if a wildfire prompts evacuations during work and school hours, and an out-of-state contact where you can reach out to let your loved ones know you’re safe. You should also store a backpack with the essential supplies that you and each of the members of your family may need during the first 72 hours following an earthquake. This backpack should include food, water, an extra change of clothes, first aid supplies, necessary medications, hygiene supplies, and more. For a complete list of recommended wildfire kit must-haves, and other safety tips, check out this guide.
Floods are no strangers to Georgia. In fact, the risk of small-scale and large-scale events is a concern year after year. Two of the leading causes of floods include storms that bring in large amounts of precipitation and tropical storms that lead to storm surges and coastal flooding, as well as heavy rainfall. Floods cause widespread contamination, debris flows, and deadly currents.
A study of Georgia floods revealed that small-scale flood events occur most often during June through August. This pattern correlates with rainstorms that are common at the same time. Large-scale foods are more common during the spring and winter months. This is likely due to tropical storms. In either case, the Atlanta urban region is said to receive the worst effects of these floods. The report hypothesizes that urbanization, as well as poor drainage throughout the city, could be influencing factors.
September 15-22, 2009. This was the week that devastated the metropolis of Atlanta and nearby areas. Several days of consistent rainfall resulted in major flooding that caused severe damage to over 20,000 homes and other structures. The flood devastated bridges, theme parks, highways, and covered homes to the top of their roofs. This event was titled the Epic Floods of 2009 and it’s remembered for causing $500 million in damage and ending the lives of 10 people.
Floods can occur over a period of a few days or a few hours. Learn what your flood risk level is at your home and workplace, or other places you frequent the most. In the event of torrential rain, be prepared to evacuate to higher ground. Significant precipitation causing flooding is only half of the risk. Consider that flash floods may occur a few hours after the initial downpour, especially if you live near a river or mountainous region. Learn some more flood preparedness tips here.
Georgia has several hills, slopes, and mountainous regions, particularly in the North, that are susceptible to landslides. Landslides, rockfalls, and mudslides occur when the ground becomes unstable either due to excess precipitation, soil weakness or saturation, wildfire scars, or disruptions to the topography by man.
Not all of Georgia is prone to landslides, so look at specific hazard maps for your area to determine your risk. When there are periods of heavy rains, you should consider the lurking threat of a mudslide, especially if your home is mildly at risk of a flash flood. Landslides oftentimes occur without much warning, so learn the sounds that you can expect to hear when there’s a mudslide approaching. Prior to a storm, find a few places near your home or neighborhood that you would consider to be higher ground. Finding safe nearby locations helps to train your mind. If a landslide occurs during the night while you’re sleeping, which is very common, or if you’re ever forced to evacuate your home in a moment’s notice, you’ll know where to run to rather than be caught off guard and panic. Find more tips on landslide preparedness here.
7. Power outages
Being a state prone to severe storms, Georgia is extremely vulnerable to power outages. Atlanta is also a hub for international travel so it should come as no surprise that it’s one of the top five consumers of electricity nationwide. Hurricanes, wind storms, hail, wildfires, floods, and other disasters are largely responsible for causing damage to power lines and disrupting our precious electricity. In 2017, Georgians had been left in the dark for up to 17 hours thanks to Hurricane Irma. In December of the same year, the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, considered to be the busiest airport in the United States, endured an outage that lasted 11 long hours!
Power outages can disrupt many aspects of our daily lives, from the plumbing system to technology, to cooking, and more. Be prepared with enough supplies to cover at least momentary blackouts. Consider getting a small generator that can power up your electronics and refrigerator. This will prevent major loss of food, which can become a monetary burden for some. If you, or a loved one in your household, have any medical needs that require electricity, a generator is highly recommended. If that’s not the case for you, and you prefer to power through the outage without electricity, get flashlights, batteries, a hygiene kit, and some food and water for a minimum of fourteen days. Two weeks might seem exaggerated, but consider that many stores will be closed during the outage if they don’t have backup generators themselves. This goes for gas stations too. Want more tips? Learn how to prepare for a long-term power outage here!
8. Extreme Heat and Droughts
Georgia has moderate to mild weather year-round, but a few days of above-average hot weather isn’t entirely uncommon. At the moment, Georgia experiences roughly 20 days of extreme heat each year. In the next 30 years, this number is expected to jump to 90 days per year. Crowded cities, like Atlanta, are typically warmer than the surrounding suburbs because they’re much more congested.
Georgia averages 217 days of sunshine, which opens up the possibility of droughts occurring if the precipitation during the year isn't enough. The longest drought in Georgia’s recent history lasted about 161 weeks. It began in April 2006 and lasted through May 2009. The worst was during the second week of December in 2007 when almost 50% of the entire state was affected by an exceptional drought, meaning that there were major losses to the crops and shortages of water causing state-wide emergencies.
At this moment, roughly 37% of the state is considered to be abnormally dry, but the drought percentages are a bit lower. These values will change constantly, so if you want to look for the current drought percentages, you can look here.
During periods of drought, be sure not to waste water. Water is our most vital resource and should be conserved at all times. If there’s a heat wave projected to affect your area, you should learn how to mitigate the risks because they can become deadly, especially for children and adults over the age of 65, as well as people with pre-existing medical conditions. Learn the signs of heat stress and go to cooling centers, or a public place with A/C, to prevent contributing to a power outage if the electricity is exhausted with thousands of people using fans. Learn more simple mitigation tips that you could implement in the event of extreme heat right here.
9. Winter Storms
Georgia averages 1 inch of snow each year. This isn’t enough to consider it likely that there will be winter storms, but ice can form and cause problems on the roads primarily in the northern region of the state. One of the worst blizzards to hit the Peach State occurred in 1993, and it brought 50 mph winds and almost 3 feet of snow in Northern Georgia.
If you’re living or traveling to, the northern part of Georgia during the winter season, always go prepared with chains, extra clothes, a few wool blankets, hand warmers, water, and snacks. In the event that you get stranded or lost in the middle of a winter storm, you should be prepared to wait in your car until help arrives or the conditions clear up. Always keep winter supplies in your car if you’re traveling with kids and pets. This guide dives deep into winter storm preparedness and may give you some ideas if seasonal storms are a threat to you.
Natural disaster resources for Georgia
The fact that Georgia is prone to natural hazards is the reason why you should prepare for them. Preparedness gives us peace of mind to enjoy life without actively worrying about the future. These are some ideas to help you in that process:
- Begin by signing up for real-time weather alerts. The NOAA Weather App sends updated watches and warnings as they are forecasted. Download the free app and keep the notifications turned on.
- Every disaster is different, which is why preparing for them isn’t always the same. All disasters require that you make action plans, evacuation plans, communication plans, and stockpile supplies. But learning the signs, mitigation methods, and safety measures for each disaster is what makes them specifically unique. Find the guide that matches the disaster you’re preparing for right here! [LINK Main disaster guide page]
- Obtaining knowledge is amazing, but putting it into practice helps tremendously. The government has created an organization to help you with the “practice” part of your preparedness journey. This organization is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and they offer free classes that cover many important topics within emergency prep. I like CERT because it gives you an opportunity to connect with other like-minded folks in your area. Find your local CERT here!
- One of the amazing things that happen immediately after a disaster is that people come together to help those that have been affected. If you have skills, resources, or just like to help others, I recommend you connect with the Georgia VOAD: Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This organization is a group of volunteers that determines the basic needs of a community after a natural disaster has occurred. Then, they get in touch with everyone that is registered under the organization if their resources or skills are needed to meet the local needs. You can then participate if you’re able to. This is a nice way to give back to the community.
- The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency is the state's government office that helps the residents during each phase of a disaster, whether that’s in the planning or recovery phase. Their website has lots of information to help you!
I hope this article has helped you determine the disasters that may affect Georgia, but more importantly how you can become ready for them. If you’re prepared, you’ve set yourself up for success and a faster recovery!
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