With maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), Florence was due to grow even stronger before making landfall on Thursday, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina near the SC border, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the US east coast from Edisto Beach, South Carolina to North Carolina-Virginia border, including the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds., with storm surge watches encompassing the same area.
Unsafe swells generated by Florence affected Bermuda and have begun to reach parts of the Eastern Seaboard.
The hurricane center warned that the swells are likely to cause "life-threatening" surf and current conditions.
On its current trajectory, winds from the hurricane could reach the southeastern United States late on Wednesday, with Florence possibly making landfall around the Carolinas on Thursday or Friday. Advisories warning of unsafe beach conditions or coastal flooding were in effect for parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
"Florence is. expected to remain an extremely risky major hurricane through Thursday", the hurricane center warned. Drawing energy from the warm water, it could be a fearsome Category 4 with winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kph) or more by Tuesday, the Miami-based center said.
As of Monday evening, Florence was 500 miles in diameter, much larger than the typical 300-mile-wide hurricane.
Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did previous year over Texas, dumping days of rain, although not quite as bad.
Even though the system has diminished in strength, it's forecasted to be a huge rainmaker as it slowly moves across SC following landfall which would downgrade it further to a tropical storm.
"All indications are that Florence will be an extremely risky Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States", the NHC said. Their governors declared states of emergency Friday and Saturday.
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As of 5 p.m. ET Monday, the center of Florence was located about 1,170 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina, and was moving to the west-northwest at 13 mph.
A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote.
The parking lot has been full for three days at the Ace Hardware store in coastal Calabash, North Carolina, where manager Tom Roberts said he sold 150 gas cans in two hours Monday, along with generators, plywood, rope, manual can openers, sand bags and a plethora of other items. The northernmost landfall was made by Hazel, a devastating and deadly storm that struck close to the South Carolina/North Carolina border in October 1954.
The storm is forecast to become a "major hurricane" Monday, travel between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching the southeastern USA coast on Thursday, the Miami-based weather center said.
The governors of North and SC, along with Virginia, have declared states of emergency in preparation for the storm.
Cooper also urged people to learn what evacuation routes to take, and put fuel in their vehicles in case they're ordered to leave. Vessels that can't leave port will prepare by a variety of means, from adding mooring and storm lines to dropping anchor and disconnecting shore power cables.
To become a hurricane, a storm must reach sustained winds of 74 miles per hour. Forecasters say that because of the size the storm is expected to attain, it will wreak havoc regardless of how strong its winds are.
USA residents from SC to Virginia were warned that Florence posed an increasing risk of life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as flooding from heavy rainfall inland. While Helene is forecast to slide out to sea away from land, Isaac is a very real threat in the Caribbean later this week, the hurricane center said.
Unsafe storms are also threatening parts of the U.S.in the Pacific Ocean.
The center also said that Hurricane Isaac has become the 5th named hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season.