A graphic of Hurricane Florence's path, generated today (Sept. 12) at 2 p.m. ET by the National Hurricane Center, shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow).
"The time to prepare is nearly over", North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference.
"Just because you're not on the coast doesn't mean you won't get some big impact".
People on barrier islands or peninsulas were running out of time Wednesday to retreat by bridge or ferry.
Florence will bring large rainfall totals through Saturday in North Carolina, north SC and Virginia, causing catastrophic flash flooding.
The simplest, most common metric for the measurement of a storm's intensity is maximum wind speed, and certainly this matters in terms of pure destructive potential when it comes to, say, losing a roof or propelling debris through the air.
As of 11 a.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 145 miles (230 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, its forward movement slowed to 10 mph (17 kph).
A state of emergency has also been declared in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Hundreds of miles inland, Charlotte Douglas International Airport already has more than 300 flight cancellations for Thursday and Friday, according to FlightAware.
A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina.
"These enormous waves are produced by being trapped along with very strong winds moving in the same direction [of] the storm's motion", the agency said.
The hurricane center is forecasting the storm to hover near the coast Saturday with winds of around 80 miles per hour before landfall, but with rainfall in the 20 to 30 inches range and up to 13 feet of storm surge. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., and nearby areas, the surge could hit 6-9 feet. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. The only exception was Edisto Beach - that and other areas to the north remain under evacuation orders.
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Storm surge warnings were issued from South Santee River in SC to Duck, North Carolina.
Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but reconsidered due to its ferocity.
Other bars in North Carolina stayed open on Wednesday night (amid warnings to evacuate) and advertised local beer, pizza and vodka, the Daily Mail reported. "This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast". Regardless of whether a system forms, they say heavy rain and gusty winds are likely along the Texas and Louisiana coast later this week.
Florence is now heading for ocean water that has surface temperatures of about 85 degrees, meaning it will most likely strengthen on its way to the East Coast.
The hurricane is expected to weaken into a tropical depression as it continues westward into SC and Georgia.
"Our sand dunes are healthy but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that", he said. Hurricane Florence's path is hitting many counties where fewer than 5% of people have flood insurance.
Forecasters have warned of life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic flooding, damaging winds, and unsafe rip currents along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's center reaching the coast Friday. "This is not going to be a glancing blow", Byard explained.
All four major United States airlines have said they are capping selected airfares below what last-minute tickets would cost. As of Thursday afternoon the storm was generating sustained winds of 105mph, as storm surge water has begun to rush into homes and streets along beachside communities. "It goes well inland".
In North Carolina, Florence is expected to dump up to 40 inches of rain.
At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence. "It's called Mother Nature".