The winds of Hurricane Florence weakened as the storm prepared to hit the U.S. East Coast, but forecasters warn the storm's overall size and its ability to push ashore a storm surge while dropping tremendous amounts of rain make it a threat to the lives of those in its path.
The storm is moving northwest at 10 miles per hour (17 kph), the NHC said. Mandatory evacuations have been issued for much of the SC and North Carolina coastline.
A graphic of Hurricane Florence's path, generated today (Sept. 12) at 2 p.m. ET by the National Hurricane Center, shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow).
Forecasters say wind speeds have dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kph) to 110 miles per hour (175 kph), reducing it to a Category 2 storm.
The slow speed will give Florence time to pound the Carolinas with band after band of heavy rain, causing "catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding".
According to the NHC forecast at 5 p.m. on September 12, the storm is forecast to slow down near the coast of North and SC before it passes over the states and into Georgia.
Its governor, Roy Cooper, told residents the time to prepare was nearly over. "Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in". Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and he said it will still be an extremely risky storm for rain and storm surge.
Some of the weather models predict that it may stall and sit and spin for a couple of days, just as Hurricane Harvey did over Houston past year.
People fleeing coastal North and SC clogged highways Wednesday as Florence bore down for a direct hit in the low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.
The states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland have all declared states of emergency ahead of Florence.More news: FDA puts e-cigarette companies on notice over teen access
The rest of South and North Carolina as well as southwest Virginia may see up to 24 inches of rain.
More than 10 million people are in the crosshairs of Hurricane Florence as storm force winds move within hours of battering the United States east coast. Authorities in Chatham County, Georgia, which borders SC and includes the historic port city of Savannah, urged residents who feel unsafe "to evacuate as they see fit".
Some US media report concern about the effects of Florence on 6 nuclear power plants in the areas expected to be hit by the hurricane.
Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm.
"Precautionary preparations for major flooding are advised", Kottlowski said. The outages could last for weeks.
Nighttime winds have gone from 140mph (225kph) to 115mph (185kph), and further weakening is expected as Florence approaches the coast. "It's going to happen".
"We lost power at home so we figured we should come to the bar", said Carla Mahaffee, a 33-year-old actor from Wilmington, as she drank a cider.
Officials in New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, have stockpiled enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, along with more than 28,000 tarps. Shelters in the city were filling and some people were being bused inland to Raleigh, even though some residents there were told they might have to evacuate because of flooding.
"It's going to be bad", said Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners.