The 400-mile wide storm is predicted to start slamming the N.C. coast Thursday night to early Friday, then weaken to a tropical storm as it drifts into SC, said John Quagliariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia.
By the time the storm leaves the region, forecasters expect it to drop 50 to 75 centimeters (19-30 inches) of rain in coastal areas, with some parts capable of receiving up to 100 centimeters (40 inches).
The storm fell to a Category 2 Wednesday night, but faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and SC in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.
"Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast, with weakening expected after the center moves inland", the briefing said.
About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by what has been described as the most severe storm to hit the region in decades.
The warmth isn't extraordinary for this time of year, said Amy Seeley, a meteorologist for the weather service.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Storm Helen looks set to reach the British isles next week, where it could bring strong winds and heavy rains.
Because landfalling hurricanes commonly spawn twisters, a tornado watch was issued for eastern North Carolina.
Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.
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"Either no (hotel) rooms are available, or we are denied because the breed or size of dogs", she said. As of now, Florence is due to make landfall very early Friday morning, somewhere in the Carolinas. As of Thursday afternoon the storm was generating sustained winds of 105mph, as storm surge water has begun to rush into homes and streets along beachside communities.
Officials in at least one area that ordered an evacuation will be going to homes to ask people planning to ride it out for information on their next of kin, CNN reported Wednesday.
Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that one million to three million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.
What also makes Florence extremely unsafe are the deadly storm surges, mammoth coastal flooding and historic rainfall expected far inland. "You need to go on and get out now".
"This is a very risky storm", said FEMA's Long, urging people still in evacuation zones to heed orders to flee to safer ground.
"But I'm not afraid", he said.
Instead of pushing directly towards states like West Virgina, Kentucky, or IN (following a generally northwest track from its initial landfall), Florence may now stall out on top of SC before moving west or southwest towards Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. "I'm going to get killed on the road,"' Bradley said.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.
"They try to stay open as long as they can", Kourounis said. "It's called Mother Nature. We just want prayers from everyone".