ATLANTA - Winds are increasing across metro Atlanta as a gradually weakening Tropical Storm Irma moves into Georgia.
Irma downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm early Monday morning but maintains tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 415 miles from the center of the storm. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to around 65 miles per hour with higher gusts.
The powerful storm is making its way from Florida into southwestern Georgia Monday afternoon and is expected to be in eastern Alabama by Tuesday morning.
Officials in Worth County confirmed one storm-related death there as tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rain bears down on the region. North Georgia is currently feeling the impacts from the feeder bands of Irma, and damage has been reported across different parts of the state.
Ahead of the storm, Governor Nathan Deal asked schools and businesses to close Monday and Tuesday. A number of school systems in south Georgia and metro Atlanta closed Monday, and in some cases, Tuesday as well.
Gov. Deal has asked people to shelter in place and avoid any unnecessary travel. MARTA suspended all service on Monday as a result.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, the center of the storm was located about 70 miles east of Tallahassee, Florida and about 85 miles north of Cedar Key. Irma is moving north-northwest at 17 mph.
Irma is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Tuesday afternoon.
In Georgia, 82 counties are under a Tropical Storm Warning including 16 metro Atlanta counties. Those include Baldwin, Barrow, Bartow, Bibb, Bleckley, Butts, Carroll, Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Cherokee, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Crawford, Crisp, DeKalb, Dodge, Dooly, Douglas, Emanuel, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Glascock, Gordon, Greene, Gwinnett, Hancock, Haralson, Harris, Heard, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, Lamar, Laurens, Macon, Madison, Marion, Meriwether, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Muscogee, Newton, Fulton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Peach, Pickens, Pike, Polk, Pulaski, Putnam, Rockdale, Schley, Spalding, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Troup, Twiggs, Upson, Walton, Warren, Washington, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox, Wilkes, and Wilkinson counties.
This is the first time a Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the city of Atlanta. Peak winds were expected to reach 30 to 40 mph with gusts of up to 55 mph.
A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the watch area.
The FOX 5 Storm Team said storm threats include damage to porches, carports, sheds, and unanchored mobile homes. Roads may become impassable due to debris. Power outages could occur.
The FOX 5 Storm Team is tracking the far reaching bands of Irma moving into the Metro Atlanta area. Most areas were experiencing light rain early Monday morning, but the rain will continue to intensify throughout the morning and afternoon. Wind gusts are also increasing with most areas seeing sustained 10-25 mph winds with gusts to 35 mph. These winds will escalate quickly throughout the day with the strongest winds by early afternoon through Monday evening.
At 12 p.m., those sustained winds are expected to increase to 30 mph with maximum gusts at 40 mph as more of the rain bands move into north Georgia. The next three hours will trend with slightly stronger winds with gusts up to 45 mph.
By 5 p.m., the rain and strong winds will continue with sustained winds of 35-45 mph but gusts up to 65 mph.
Around 11 p.m., the storm will begin to move out of Georgia into Alabama, but will still pack 39 mph sustained winds with gusts near 50 mph.
Waking up Tuesday morning, around 5 a.m., most of the rain will have pushed out of the state, but the wind will still be blowing around 15-25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph. That will drop off as the day continues. Scattered wind damage is expected to knock down trees and power lines.
An estimated 3 to 5 inches of rain is possible with some flooding and flash flooding risks. A Flash Flood Watch continues for north and central Georgia from 8 a.m. Monday into Tuesday morning.
The storm wreaked havoc from Florida's southernmost point to areas near the Georgia line, with homes and cars swamped, trees flattened, boats cast onto roads in the Florida Keys and streets underwater in many places. Irma also snapped miles upon miles of power lines and toppled three massive construction cranes over Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
More than 400 miles from where Irma first came ashore, storm surge brought heavy flooding to Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast on Monday. The flooding broke a 1964 record by at least a foot.
"Stay inside unless you are in danger due to flooding," the forecasters warned.
In nearby Clay County, crews pulled at least 46 people from flooded homes, and still more were stranded, said emergency operations manager Joe Ward.
No deaths in Florida were immediately linked to the storm. At least 24 people were killed in the Caribbean as Irma ravaged a string of resort islands long known as vacation playgrounds for the rich.
More than 200,000 people waited in shelters across Florida. Nearly 4.5 million homes and businesses statewide lost power, and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone. More than 100,000 were in the dark in Georgia.
The monster storm arrived in Florida on Sunday morning as a fearsome Category 4 hurricane but weakened rapidly in the evening and overnight.
People in the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area were braced for its first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921. But by the time it rolled through in the middle of the night Monday, it was down to a moderate Category 2, with winds around 100 mph or less.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the situation was not as bad as it could have been but warned residents that dangerous storm surge continued. He also reported downed power lines and other debris.
Many communities in Irma's wake feared what destruction would be revealed as daylight allowed authorities to canvass neighborhoods.
Video from the Keys showed a pickup truck zig-zagging over the center line to avoid several boats tossed onto the asphalt. Nearby, houses were shoved from their foundations, and uprooted trees and other debris blocked a road.
Authorities were set to begin house-to-house searches in the Keys to check on victims. About 30,000 people heeded orders to evacuate the low-lying islands as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused.
East of Tampa, winds knocked a utility pole and power lines onto a sheriff's cruiser late Sunday in Polk County. A deputy and a paramedic, who had just escorted an elderly patient to safety, were trapped for two hours until a crew could free them. Both were unhurt.
And more than 120 homes were being evacuated early Monday in Orange County, just outside Orlando, as floodwaters started to pour in. Firefighters and National Guardsmen went door-to-door and used boats to ferry families to safety.
A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60-foot sinkhole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported.