Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2, but forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.
The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked at 175kmph late on Wednesday, down from a peak of 225kmph a day earlier, before it was downgraded to a Category 3 and then a Category 2. We have to remember, Florence is a very large storm.
Although Florence's strength was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 2, it grew in size, bringing a massive amount of rain and ocean water. It is now at Category 1. The storm was a unsafe Category 4 hurricane Wednesday but was downgraded Thursday night to a Category 1 storm. The Saffir-Simpson scale that meteorologists use to measure hurricanes reflects only the wind speeds involved in the storm, and right now Hurricane Florence's winds are hovering at maximum speeds of about 110 miles per hour (175 km/h).
Moreover, high tides around noon and midnight these next few days will make the storm surges even worse, Samson said.
The National Weather Service office in Newport, North Carolina, in a tweet called the storm surge "catastrophic". "Catastrophic effects will be felt".
Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence September 13, 2018 in New Bern, North Carolina.
"A USGS gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels", the National Hurricane Center said, in its 7 a.m. ET update. "We're able", he said.
The projected path shows the storm moving from near Wilmington, North Carolina to near Columbia, South Carolina.
Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Florence's forward motion had slowed and it was not expected to make landfall in the Carolinas until "some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or Saturday morning".
The briefing said Florence "is a large hurricane" with hurricane-force winds extending 80 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending 195 miles from the eye of the storm. The rainfall will cause prolonged significant river flooding. Some of these reactors - including Duke Energy's Brunswick and Harris nuclear plants in North Carolina and Dominion Energy's Surry plant in Virginia - may be directly in the hurricane's path, Reuters reported.
Life-threatening storm surge is being reported along the coast of the Carolinas.
Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.
And in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, hospitals are racing to evacuate patients.
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. Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
Antonio Ramirez, a construction worker from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog Canelo.
Nearly 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Cooper said. "I'm not leaving him here.
This is a handsome beach here I can't imagine how it's going to be when we come back", homeowner Sheryl Andrews said. "I learned from the past to keep the ice in the washing machine".