Hurricane Florence weakened to a Category 2 on Wednesday, but it’s still expected to bring “life-threatening” surges and rainfall to the Southeast, meteorologists warned.
Forecasters downgraded Florence, once a Category 4, to a dangerous Category 2 hurricane late Wednesday as the storm made its way toward the Carolinas, where some residents could see storm surges as high as 13 feet.
Parts of North Carolina are forecast to see maximum sustained winds of up to 110 miles per hour and receive as much as 40 inches of rain, which could lead to historic flooding, forecasters said.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, said Thursday morning. “Take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions.”
The latest tracking report from the National Hurricane Center released at 5 a.m. showed the eye of Florence about 200 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. The hurricane was moving northwest in the Atlantic at 15 mph and was packing sustained winds of 110 mph.
Florence is forecast to make landfall near southeast North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane early Friday morning, “bringing extreme wind and sea conditions” reminiscent of a much stronger storm, meteorologists said.
It’s expected to stall around the South Carolina/North Carolina coastline into Friday night and then drift toward Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Florence will likely weaken to a Category 1 storm on Friday or Saturday.
“Plan for extreme wind of equivalent Category 3 hurricane force, or higher, due to possible forecast changes in track, size, or intensity,” the NWS said. “Heed any flood watches and warnings. Failure to take action will likely result in serious injury or loss of life.”
“Now is the time to shelter from life-threatening wind,” the agency added. “Be ready to move to the safest place inside your shelter if necessary.”
Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, underscored the danger of the storm surge in an interview with “Good Morning America.”
“People do not live and survive to tell the tale about what their experience is like with storm surge,” Long said. “It’s the most deadly part of the hurricane that comes in — it causes the most amount of destruction.”
The White House has approved requests from North Carolina and South Carolina for federal emergency declarations, allowing for greater coordination among states and federal agencies. Trump also approved a federal emergency declaration for Virginia.
“Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated. It will be arriving soon. FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet Wednesday. “It is imperative that everyone follow local evacuation orders. This storm is extremely dangerous.”