ATLANTA - Georgia's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Office is moving to a 24-hour hurricane watch as Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday afternoon in southwest Florida.
Category 4 Hurricane Ian nearly become an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm with winds going from of 120 mph to 155 mph after an eyeball replacement cycle. The storm slammed into Cayo Costa, Florida, Wednesday afternoon. It could make another landfall into the Georgia and South Carolina coast late Friday night to early Saturday morning.
The major hurricane has prompted warnings of possibly dangerous storm surge along the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay region.
"It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s projected path. He warned at a news conference: "This the kind of storm surge that is life-threatening."
In Georgia, officials are expected to begin ramping up their operations to coordinate response efforts.
Gov. Brian Kemp and other emergency management officials toured the GEMA operations center facility on Wednesday morning. While originally the center was opened at a Level 2 - meaning employees were staffing the center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. - the changes in Hurricane Ian's intensity have moved them to a Level 3 Wednesday, which means representatives from major state agencies will be on hand 24 hours a day to coordinate response efforts.
"I would just remind Georgians to stay weather alert, especially if you're in the southern half of the state," said Gov. Kemp.
State meteorologist Will Lanxton said the storm is forecast to move off the northeast coast of Florida as a tropical storm on Thursday. Georgia's coastline is expected to see the effects of the system beginning late Thursday night into Friday morning.
"Anything that the media or local officials tell you to do as far as precautions and preparatory actions, do those," said Lanxton. "We're not looking at mass evacuations or anything in Georgia. It's more of kind of a hunker down and just be on the lookout for any flooding in your area or if there is any high wind issues, just make sure you are inside pretty much and just wait the storm out."
GEMA Director Chris Stallings says the best-case scenario would be if the storm continues to track eastward and heads out to sea, but he is encouraging all Georgians to be prepared.
Tuesday Kemp preemptively declared a state of emergency for all of Georgia's counties, ordering 500 National Guard troops onto standby to respond as needed. Georgia Power says that it will be ready to fix any outages as quickly and safely as possible.
Officials say Georgians who end up in the path of the storm should prepare with GEMA's suggested guide to what residents should do before, during, and after a hurricane including making a family communications plan and evacuation plan and prepare a "Ready kit" in case of evacuation.
You can find all their suggested guidance on the GEMA website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.