But forecasters also said the opposite could happen when it brushed up against strong wind shear. Then, it will likely hover along the coast on Saturday (Sunday NZT), pushing up to 4m of storm surge and dumping 50 to 75cm of rain on both states, before slogging over the Appalachian Mountains. Those winds, though weaker, are behind the biggest threats: storm surges and widespread flooding. And Florence is a large storm, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 80 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds outward up to 195 miles.
Florence is about 644 kilometres wide and it's winds have dropped from a peak of 225 km/h to 165 km/h, reducing the hurricane from a terrifying Category 4 to a Category 2.
Wind and rain from Florence have already started impacting the coastal areas of the Carolinas, and NOAA's reporting station at Cape Lookout North Carolina just reported a sustained wind of 60mph and a gust to 79mph. Widespread rainfall amounts could reach 152mm to 300mm, spurring flooding.
"We now have a travel alert which has been posted for 23 airports from Virginia all the way through Georgia on the East Coast", says Ross Feinstein, spokesman for American Airlines.
As of 10am Thursday (local time), Florence's top winds were 177km/h, and it was marching northwest at16km/h, about 257km east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 329km east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances. A tropical storm warning covers the area from north of Duck to the Virgina Tidewater area.
Almost 2 million coastal residents are now under mandatory evacuation orders, although it remains unclear how many have actually done so.
Florence has forced people to cut their holidays short along the coast, while the storm's projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous pig farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons. A surge of at least 4 feet is predicted for a much larger area.
This morning, the radar loop out of Morehead North Carolina is beginning to show those fans of heavy rain closing in on the coast. The more it hovers just off shore, the more potentially deadly storm surge it could push on-shore.
Some 7,000 guard members are ready to mobilize in North Carolina, while 1,100 will be activated in SC.
"Floodwaters may enter numerous structures, and some may become uninhabitable or washed away", the Weather Service warned.
Though the Waffle House may be open now, it's unlikely that will be the case in the days to come.
And then there's the major slowdown that's expected: as of Thursday, Florence was moving roughly 17 km/h, but once it makes landfall, it's expected to nearly stall, with its forward speed dropping to just 9 km/h or less. "Kind of like Sandy", said George Kourounis, a storm-chaser from Toronto, who is in Wilmington, N.C. Hurricane Sandy formed in the Atlantic in 2012, hitting Jamaica and the Bahamas as a Category 1.
"Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse". Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads.
Duke has said it could take several weeks to fully restore power in areas that are inaccessible due to flooding. Some 11,000 power outages had been reported by Thursday morning.
It is very common for quick, spin-up tornadoes to occur during land-falling hurricanes. But then they gradually diverge.
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