FEMA officials wrote on Twitter people should not focus on the category of the storm - as of Thursday morning, Hurricane Florence was a Category 2 storm, indicating slower wind speeds - but rather should pay attention to the fact there will be extreme flooding in the Carolinas as a result.
Although it's been downgraded to a category two storm with 105mph winds, officials say there could be feet - rather than inches - of rain.
At least 150,000 people were without power in North Carolina early on Friday with the brunt of the storm yet to come, according to utility companies.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet high as Florence churned toward shore.
Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour (225 kph), the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.
Roads and intersections on North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands were already inundated with water.
NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook the storm surges could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km).
Even if you didn't know that the powerful storm is forecast to gain strength as it hits the coast on Friday, or that it will dump several months of rain onto the region in a mere few days, or that the storm surge could reach as high as 9 to 13 ft.
Wilmington resident Julie Terrell said she was concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters.
"Either no (hotel) rooms are available, or we are denied because the breed or size of dogs", she said.
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In Carolina Beach, an island community off the coast of Wilmington, 75 percent of residents have already left town. The eye was about 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west-northwest at 17 miles per hour.
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Folks in Charleston, South Carolina, who have chosen not to evacuate, are preparing for a nasty storm that could make landfall right in their backyard.
"This storm will bring destruction", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. "Well, we're about to get punched in the face".
In Myrtle Beach, ABC correspondent Pete Combs painted a starker picture of those who chose to stay in place.
The expected high winds and slow movement of the hurricane as it comes ashore are likely to make rescue efforts in flooded areas challenging, senior US Defence Department officials say.
Hurricane Florence is beginning to bear down on the Carolinas with heavy winds and rising tides.
"The people of North Carolina need to understand that Matthew was a Category 1 hurricane when it finally made landfall in the Carolinas, and it caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage", US Sen.
The massive storm is larger than North Carolina and South Carolina - combined, according to South Carolina Emergency Management.
"He is the only caregiver to me and my son", Browning said.