(AJC) – Flood warnings and watches were in effect for large areas of metro Atlanta and north Georgia after a Christmas Eve weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas moved through the area Thursday.
The northern half of metro Atlanta was getting a break from the deluge early Thursday afternoon, as the heaviest of the rain had moved south of I-20 and I-85. But Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said at noon that more areas of rain will move over the entire metro area later Thursday and Thursday night.
MARTA was experiencing delays on all rail lines due to the weather. Rail service between the Five Points and Oakland City stations was terminated and a bus bridge was established, a spokesman said.
Downed trees were reported in parts of metro Atlanta, and Georgia Power reported nearly 10,000 customers without electricity statewide just before 9 a.m.
The rough weather was also causing departure delays of 2 to 3 hours at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The weather system spawned two dozen tornadoes in six states from Indiana and Illinois to the Deep South, killing three people in Mississippi, two in Tennessee and one in Arkansas.
There had been no tornadoes reported in Georgia, but the wet and windy weather was causing other problems, from interstate crashes, which left a HERO worker injured, to downed trees in Buckhead and elsewhere in metro Atlanta.
Interstate 20 west near Stonecrest Mall in DeKalb County was backed up for miles as vehicles creeped along the interstate through standing water.
In Cobb County, one lane of Cumberland Parkway is closed now and the entire road will close beginning at 4 pm. due to flooding. The county advises motorists to avoid the area.
In Lilburn in Gwinnett County, police said Hillcrest Road was closed due to flooding until further notice.
In Alpharetta, sections of the city’s Big Creek Greenway were flooded Thursday, assistant city administrator James Drinkard said. The greenway was built in a floodplain, and usually closes when it rains.
All of north Georgia was under a flood watch through Friday night, with forecasters predicting an additional 1 to 3 inches of rain. A flash flood warning was issued for Gilmer and Fannin counties, where more than 4 inches of rain was recorded early Thursday.
The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office reported on Facebook that numerous roads in the county were closed, and an apartment complex in East Ellijay was evacuated due to flooding.
“We suggest that you use more than regular caution if you have to be driving on the roads in Gilmer County this morning,” the Facebook posting read. “Excessive standing water is being reported on many roads.”
County officials warned anyone living near one of Gilmer’s three rivers to “evacuate immediately and move to higher ground,” and said that a shelter was being opened at Gilmer Middle School.
In neighboring Fannin County, sheriff’s officials posted on Facebook that the county was “currently experiencing heavy flooding” and that several roads were impassable.
In the northeast corner of the state, Rabun County was also under a flash flood warning.
Southwest of Atlanta, a flash flood warning was issued for Troup County, where 3 to 5 inches had fallen since 7 a.m. Thursday.
Accidents and trees down
The heavy rain was causing other problems in metro Atlanta.
Early Thursday, authorities worked to clear several wrecks on I-75 near the Brookwood Interchange. WSB 24-hour Traffic Center reported that a HERO operator was taken to the hospital after being hit by a vehicle while working an earlier crash.
Strong winds combined with the saturated ground to bring trees down in several locations, including on Tuxedo Drive and West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead and on Richardson Road in northwest Atlanta.
No injuries were reported when a large tree came crashing down on a home on Peyton Woods Court in southwest Atlanta.
Atlanta fire Assistant Chief Chris Wessels said firefighters helped the resident cover the damaged roof with a tarp.
“We started getting a lot of calls for trees down a little bit after 8 this morning, and we anticipate that to continue throughout the day and into tomorrow,” Wessels said.
“If it’s at all possible for us to get our firefighters on the roofs, we try to do what we can to minimize the damage, because we still have a lot of rain coming in,” Wessels told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “With the heavy rain, the water damage would be tremendous if we weren’t able to get the tarps up.”
In DeKalb County, authorities reported six trees down on houses, one down on a car and one house struck by lightning.
Tornado warnings expire
A tornado warning was issued just after 5 a.m. for parts of Paulding, Polk and Haralson counties just northwest of Atlanta. That warning was allowed to expire at 5:30 a.m., but was replaced by a severe thunderstorm warning through 6:15 a.m. for parts of Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow counties.
That same cluster of storms prompted a “significant weather advisory” for north Fulton, Cherokee and Forsyth counties until 6:45 a.m.
Elsewhere, a tornado watch, indicating that conditions are ripe for the formation of tornadoes, was in effect through 10 a.m. Thursday for 28 counties south of Atlanta in middle Georgia.
The chance of rain is 100 percent Thursday and 60 percent on Christmas Day, diminishing to 20 to 30 percent over the weekend.
Record high temperatures are forecast, Monahan said, reaching 73 Thursday, 75 Friday and 76 Saturday.
The previous record is 72 on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.