Decreasing modestly in strength but expanding in size, Category 3 Hurricane Florence is less than 48 hours away from making landfall on the Southeast American coast with catastrophic impacts, from damaging winds to flash flooding to widespread power outages.
The storm's surge, the rise in sea water above normally dry land at the coast, could reach up to 13 feet at peak.
Hurricane-force winds will bring down trees and damage homes and businesses. Like Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Florence is expected to slow significantly when it reaches the coast, allowing the storm to dump a catastrophic amount of rain in the Carolinas.
Florence will be, in all likelihood, the most intense storm to strike the region in at least 25 years, since Hugo.
"This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast," the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said, "and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew."
"North Carolina, my message is clear," a grim Gov. Roy Cooper said at a briefing today.
"Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in."
The pivot in the forecasted track of Florence led Georgia's governor to declare a state of emergency for all 159 counties, home to 10.5 million people.
And it led to mixed signals from officials in South Carolina, whose governor had canceled mandatory evacuation for several coastal counties. Yesterday officials in Beaufort County, home to Hilton Head Island, held a news conference and urged people to leave voluntarily.
Forecasts project the center of Florence to make landfall around the South and North Carolina border on Friday as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
As it nears the coast, the storm's forward motion will slow to a crawl, but the winds and rain will continue full-strength.
Since Tuesday, forecasts have shifted the storm track towards the south and southwest after it reaches the coast, which could increase the storm's severity in coastal South Carolina through Myrtle Beach and Charleston and even into parts of Georgia.
Due to unusual steering patterns in the atmosphere, Florence may crawl southward down the Southeast coast, the opposite direction storms usually travel.
The National Hurricane Center is warning of a triple threat in the Carolinas:
Enough rain could fall to break North Carolina's record for a tropical storm — 24 inches — set near Wilmington during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Service's national prediction center.
More than 1.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas ahead of the storm because of both destructive winds and a storm surge that could place normally dry land under at least 10 feet of water.
"All interests from South Carolina into the Mid-Atlantic region should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and follow any advice given by local officials," the Hurricane Center said.