Florence is now heading for ocean water with surface temperatures of around 85 degrees, meaning it will likely strengthen on its way to the East Coast.
Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and SC, carrying winds up to 140 miles per hour (220 kph) and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.
The storm could cause a life-threatening storm surge, essentially walls of water, ahead of landfall which is why FEMA warns that Wednesday is the last feasible day to evacuate areas vulnerable to the storm. But authorities warn Florence has an enormous wind field as it zeroes in on the Southeast U.S. coast, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land and making Florence extremely risky.
The fire department in Carolina Beach was sounding one final alarm Wednesday, urging residents to evacuate the island before Hurricane Florence makes landfall. The hurricane was moving northwest in the Atlantic at 15 miles per hour and was packing sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.
Officials say Hurricane Florence is likely to make landfall in southeastern North Carolina near the SC border.
"This is not going to be a glancing blow", warned Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Timing: When Will Hurricane Florence Strike?
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Florence approaches USA , set to become 'extremely dangerous' storm
The Category 1 hurricane remained 580 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, which include Puerto Rico and the U.S. For the most likely arrival time for Tropical Storm force winds accompanying the storm, view the third image above.
Residents in coastal areas should follow evacuation orders from local officials because of the potential for life-threatening storm surge flooding. It could stall just off the coast and then drift south along the SC coast and possibly make a landfall as a weaker system if it doesn't make it clearly over the coast of North Carolina. But forecasters say there's an increased chance for tropical storm winds to reach Savannah.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.
Forecasters anxious the storm's damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast.
The trend is "exceptionally bad news", said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it "smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge". Most other beachgoers were long gone. "Also, a little creepy".