Forecasters with The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang are now saying Florence is a Category 4 storm that could bring very risky winds, flash flooding and power outages. It is about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. The Triad has around a 50% chance of having sustained Tropical Storm force winds.
Expected to make landfall by Friday, the impact of the storm will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, risky surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.
"This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Fuctuations in strength are expected through Thursday, and the hurricane is still expected to be "an extremely unsafe major hurricane when it nears" the USA coast late Thursday and Friday, the hurricane center told CNN.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper told locals not to "bet your life on riding out a monster", with ferocious winds set to batter the shoreline.
Further, she said there will be in increased risk for isolated tornadoes, and the potential heavy rain and wind gusts from Florence could uproot trees and cause power outages.
On the current track, the hurricane will move over the southwestern Atlantic between Bermuda and the Bahamas and then approach the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday. REUTERS/Randall HillDennis Kernodle talks on the phone during storm preparations of his oceanfront home ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, U.S. September 12, 2018.
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As of Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), about 1.7 million people in North and SC and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents.
A view of Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station.
Florence is expected to start bringing tropical storm force winds to the Carolinas late Thursday.
For a swath of the North Carolina shore from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, the storm surge could range from 9-13 feet, the NHC said. Residents in some parts of the Carolinas have been ordered to evacuate.
"It doesn't look like it's going to weaken at this point", Flaherty said.
On Wednesday morning, the president urged those in the path of Florence to "get out of its way". With that much size and strength, even a glancing blow could be devastating - something forecasters stressed as they noted the shift in the predicted track.
If anyone left out there doubts Florence's sheer capacity to wreak havoc in the coming days, this NOAA satellite image (from former NASA scientist and Professor Marshall Shepherd) should do the convincing. But the change was probably temporary and didn't do anything to lessen the danger, said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.