Both of the Carolinas and Virginia ordered mandatory evacuations for some of their residents starting at noon Tuesday and over a million people are expected to flee.
- Tornadoes are possible as the storm meanders near or over the Carolinas.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Helene has maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour; however, it's expected to gradually weaken into Tuesday evening and is forecast to become a tropical storm by Thursday.
The ocean waters that Florence is travelling over are about 2.7 degrees (1.5 degrees Celsius) warmer than normal, McNoldy said. Florence is expected to approach the coast in the watch area by late Thursday, and then meander around coastal North Carolina through the upcoming weekend.
As of 8:30am the center of Florence was still around 1,020 miles east-southeast of Charleston and traveling west-northwest at 15 mph.
Ahead of Florence's arrival, barrier islands were already seeing unsafe rip currents and seawater flowed over a state highway - the harbinger of a storm surge that could wipe out dunes and submerge entire communities.
The North and SC coasts are on high alert as residents brace for Hurricane Florence's brutal lashing. The decisions were made as Florence appears set to come ashore along the Carolinas' coastline late Thursday or early Friday with strong winds and heavy rain.
Once the storm makes landfall, the threats are far from over. "Make sure you have flashlights and batteries", Bowser said.
Rain measured in feet is "looking likely", he said.
But while wind speed offers an easily quantifiable way to rate unsafe storms, forecasters are warning people not to fixate on wind speeds, saying that saltwater from the storm surge and freshwater from heavy rains pose a serious threat, no matter what the top winds are when the hurricane makes landfall.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Florence remained a Category 4 hurricane as of 11am (1500 GMT) packing deadly winds of 130 miles per hour (215 kilometers per hour). "Storm surge and hurricane watches could be issued for portions of these areas by Tuesday morning", the NHC said, adding that at 11:00 a.m.
Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 480km ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath of states from SC to OH and Pennsylvania could get deluged. Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 500 millimetres over much of North Carolina and Virginia, and even 760 mm in some places.
The largest airlines in the USA aren't the only carriers waiving change fees for Florence.
Even the hurricane's intensity can affect the direction it takes, as "the atmosphere has different winds at different heights, so the winds at the upper levels may be different than they are at the lower levels", Bell said. "We've never seen anything quite like this, on the East Coast at least", he said, according to Reuters.
"This is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years", US President Donald Trump tweeted Monday evening. Last season, UCF was unable to play Georgia Tech after Hurricane Irma hit Florida.
"This storm is going to knock out power days into weeks". While wind damage is still ordinarily covered, insurers that were stung by storms such as Sandy in 2012, which swamped NY and New Jersey, have inserted clauses in their policies that limit coverage and set high deductibles, particularly when storms reach hurricane status.
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