Hurricane Florence moved closer to landfall on the East Coast Thursday morning. It packs tropical storm-force winds across hundreds of miles and threatens the region with catastrophic flooding.
Although it is no longer classified as a major hurricane, it still poses a massive threat to life and property. Florence is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast on Friday and then drift southwest before it moves inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
Its maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 110 miles per hour after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
The NHC also said tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 195 miles from its center. That means that a large portion of the U.S. eastern seaboard is vulnerable. Much of the are is low-lying and stretching from Georgia north through the Carolinas into Virginia.
“The time to prepare is almost over,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a morning news conference. “Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in.”
It is estimated that10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.
The coast will be hit with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet along the Carolina coast, the hurricane could dump 20 to 30 inches of rain, with up to 40 inches in parts of North Carolina, the NHC said.
In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization forecast the surge could go even higher.
“We expect to see sea level rise up to six meters and rainfall which amounts to the annual amount of rainfall in one day,” its secretary-general Petteri Taalas told a news briefing on Thursday.
More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.
In an 11:00 pm Eastern Time advisory, the NHC said: “While Florence has weakened below major hurricane intensity, the wind field of the hurricane continues to grow in size.”
If it stalls over land, downpours and flooding would be especially severe. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. That means tens of thousands of homes and businesses could be flooded in North Carolina alone, Governor Cooper said.