The driving winds and pelting rain of Hurricane Florence's western edge began to batter the Carolinas Thursday evening, giving the region a taste of what's to come as the monster storm moves ashore Friday.
Florence's winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2. Top winds near the center of the storm have decreased to 100 miles per hour - Category 2, but the strong winds have also spread out, which will result in the storm surge over a larger area.
The bad news? The still-dangerous storm is slowing down ... and is expected to take a leisurely "fish hook" dip through SC after coming ashore somewhere between Carolina Beach, N.C. and Emerald Isle, N.C. sometime around 2:00 a.m. EDT.
The National Hurricane Center warned Thursday that Florence will still bring an increased risk of life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic flash flooding and unsafe winds to those states and the surrounding region.
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from prisons and juvenile detention centers in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.
About 800 flights in the region have been canceled ahead of the storm, CNN reported. High Risk for Rip Currents for all beaches today.
Although Florence has been downgraded from a category four to a category two storm, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".
First responders in North Carolina are scrambling to rescue residents stranded in the coastal town of New Bern. By late Wednesday, the authorities in North Carolina reported almost 7,000 evacuees staying in 71 emergency shelters throughout the state.
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A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC. Coastal Flooding: Outside the Storm Surge Watch area, minor coastal flooding could occur around the time of each high tide Thursday and Friday.
"The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves".
The main concerns for us from Florence will be moderately heavy rainfall, which will cause flooded roadways, strong gusty winds, coastal flooding, moderate potential for downed trees and widespread power outages, and unsafe travel conditions.
Areas that will be particularly susceptible to tropical storm conditions will be our far southeastern zones.
Horton pleaded for volunteers to take in their animals for the duration of the storm, a common, plaintive refrain at other shelters across the area.
And Cooper said the state is expecting significant flooding even after the storm passes.
The storm's potential impact prompted President Donald Trump to make a surprise phone call to Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo on Thursday afternoon.
By late Thursday, people were, for better or for worse, locked into their decision: go or stay. Wilmington and Brunswick County communities like Bolivia and Oak Island have seen rainfall up to 8 inches. This is expected to last for days in the Carolinas before turning north into OH and Pennsylvania. Hurricane Helene is veering toward Europe.
"Little change in strength is expected before the eye of Florence reaches the coast, with slow weakening expected after the center moves inland or meanders near the coast", the advisory said. It's forecast to gradually turn toward the northeast on Friday and then accelerate northeastward over the weekend. That system could develop into a tropical depression by Friday.