State of emergency for 12 South Georgia counties ahead of Hurricane Dorian

Georgia officials continue to track Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 storm before making landfall along the central east coast of Florida, Channel 2 Action News meteorologists said Thursday afternoon.

Ahead of the storm’s arrival, Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency for 12 South Georgia counties Thursday afternoon just before 4:15 p.m.

MORE: South Georgia wary of Dorian: 'I don't know if we can stand another one'

The counties under the alert are Brantley, Bryan, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce and Wayne.

Should the storm shift to the northwest, it could have a greater than anticipated impact on the Georgia coastline.

Flanked by officials from a range of state agencies, Kemp said Georgia could see winds greater than 39 mph extending more than 100 miles from the eye of the storm. Southwest Georgia can also expect 2-4 inches of rainfall through early next week, he said.

Kemp urged Georgia residents to be ready to respond quickly. Local agencies are already preparing for potential evacuations from Florida, which would impact traffic in Georgia over the holiday weekend. The Department of Transportation was conducting sweeps of the roadways to ensure they are clear in advance of the storm, Kemp said.

In preparation for evacuees seeking refuge from the storm, Atlanta Motor Speedway is opening its camping facilities, which can handle thousands of people, the speedway said in a news release.

The Red Cross of Georgia is also in preparation mode, working with government officials to be ready to support communities in Florida and Georgia if needed.

Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, said his agency was preparing to send resources wherever needed should the storm shift and head toward southwest Georgia.

Even if the storm stays on its current path, it will bring some nasty weather to certain parts of the state.

“At the very least, we are going to see rain in some parts of our state, potentially heavy, which could bring flooding,” Kemp said, advising residents in areas of concern to start thinking now about flood preparations.

MORE: Georgia officials keep eye on how Dorian will affect Labor Day weekend

By 11 p.m. Thursday, Dorian strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Channel 2 meteorologists said the storm was still headed toward the Florida coast but was moving slower, traveling northwest at about 13 mph. It is expected to become a Category 3 storm by Saturday morning and will increase to a Category 4 as it moves north from the Bahamas before making landfall along the Florida coastline by Monday morning.

While the path of the storm has changed very little, the forecast intensity has increased with the potential for maximum sustained winds between 130 and 156 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

As it moves into Florida, the hurricane should deteriorate to Category 1 status by Tuesday, meteorologists said.

But if the storm shifts to the northwest, it could have a greater impact on the Georgia coastline and hit the same parts of the state that were devastated by Hurricane Michael last year. Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said late Thursday afternoon that a turn to the north is likely at some point.