The winds of Hurricane Florence weakened as the storm prepared to hit the U.S. East Coast, but forecasters warn the storm's overall size and its ability to push ashore a storm surge while dropping tremendous amounts of rain make it a threat to the lives of those in its path.
As of the 2 p.m. advisory released by the National Hurricane Center, Florence is about 180 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and about 270 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Hurricane Florence's "life threatening" storm surge arrived Thursday morning, breaching dunes and sending white water and sand washing across the only highway linking North Carolina's barrier islands in the Outer Banks.
Florence is expected to go move slowly as it approaches North and SC, whipping hurricane-force winds and dumping relentless rain at least through Saturday.
The reason Florence will slowly drift across South Carolina over the weekend is that two high pressure ridges are still expected to be strong enough to force Florence to stall just before, or after, it makes landfall somewhere near the North Carolina/South Carolina border early Friday.
In total, over 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches and another 4.9 million people are under tropical storm warnings or watches.
Wind and the tidal surge will be the biggest issues for airports in the coastal Carolinas, FlightAware's Orsi said.
North Carolina alone could see the equivalent of eight months of rain over two or three days, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Locklear said.
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About 800 flights in the region have been canceled ahead of the storm, CNN reported. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm's aftermath, it said.
The massive storm is larger than North Carolina and South Carolina - combined, according to South Carolina Emergency Management.
One electricity company fears that three-quarters of its four million customers will lose power as a result of the storm, and may not be reconnected for weeks.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
Where is Hurricane Florence now?
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent". Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle. "We're able", he said. "If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing". Three other Southern raceways also opened campgrounds to evacuees.
There is little doubt that Hurricane Florence will be a significant storm as it approaches the coast the the Carolinas and Georgia.
The storm's possible track now bends farther to the SW and closer to cities like Jacksonville, but it's the delay and the possible repeat of a Harvey-like storm cycle that has officials and weather forecasters anxious.
A Hurricane Warning from Duck, North Carolina south into SC, including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. The storm's forward speed had slowed to 5 miles per hour and forecasters were concerned it might have stalled.