A woman holds a child while walking through a farm that was damaged by a tornado, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Adel, Ga.
Branden Camp / Associated Press

Sixteen south Georgia counties are under a state disaster declaration after strong storms killed at least 15 people and wrecked neighborhoods over the weekend.

The storms came in three phases, each one stronger than the previous one, said Georgia Emergency Management Agency director Homer Bryson.

“The last one had a tornado that was on the ground for over an hour – massive tornado – that covered four counties,” Bryson said. “A lot of damage, a lot of devastation.”

The GOES East satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and taken Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 at 1:12 p.m. EDT, shows Hurricane Matthew over the Caribbean region.

Georgia's coastline is relatively short and the states around it stick out into the ocean more, so it gets hit by hurricanes less frequently than other southeastern states. Still, state and federal officials are keeping an eye on Hurricane Matthew.

The National Weather Service says the storm could hit Florida in the next few days, and the coast of Georgia later this week.

When the weather forecast says "winter storm watch," it can be hard to know whether to expect another "Snowpocalypse," an ice storm or just a spate of cold rain. 

The Ready Georgia campaign with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security advises that Georgians prepare for the inconveniences of a serious winter storm no matter what, because that "winter storm watch" could morph into a dangerous weather event.

Mic Smith / Associated Press

As South Carolina copes with deadly flooding from Hurricane Joaquin, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency is sending help.

About half a dozen GEMA members are already stationed in South Carolina, helping with communications, damage assessment and disaster response.

That number is likely to increase in the next few days or weeks.

“With a flood disaster, we're really in the first phase of the issue,” says GEMA Director Jim Butterworth.

A tornado forms over a house near Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014.
Mark 'Storm' Farnik / Associated Press

A decade ago, Hurricane Katrina struck nearly 500 miles from Atlanta. Even that far away, the storm still caused 18 tornadoes across the state.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lisa Janak says tornados are only one danger a hurricane poses to the metro area. 

“It can bring high winds that can knock down trees and power lines. It can have a tropical storm that can hover over an area, drop a lot of rain [and] cause severe flooding,” she says. 

That's why Janak says even metro Atlanta residents should have a disaster readiness plan.