Florence weakens to Category 2 hurricane but still life-threatening: NHC

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Thursday Sept. 13 2018

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Thursday Sept. 13 2018

Hurricane Helene is moving north, where it's expected to become a tropical storm Thursday.

"Growing confidence that Southeast SC will experience a [prolonged] period of tropical storm winds and heavy rain Friday - Saturday from #Florence".

The center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC on Thursday, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC on Thursday night and Friday, the NHC added.

The National Weather Service says almost 5 million people could witness at least 10 inches of rain as the slow-moving storm makes slow forward progress.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.

The winds in Charleston, South Carolina, will start to pick up tonight and will remain fairly steady throughout the storm.

And don't be fooled by the fact that Florence has weakened slightly to a strong Category 2 hurricane. But forecasters warned that the widening storm - and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day - will bring seawater surging onto land and torrential downpours. The highest surge will coincide with high tide. "The water looming over Dr. Navarro is a brilliant way of showing the dangers of storm surge".

Outside of the wind, the broad circulation of the storm will allow for a storm surge north of the center of circulation heading into Friday.

The storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to around 90 miles per hour (144 kph) by nightfall. By Sunday evening, winds should fall below 20 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington. What's more, Florence's historic amount of rainfall may lead to flooding of pig manure lagoons, and the hurricane's winds and storm surge have the potential to damage nuclear reactors in the region, Live Science previously reported.

Forecast models suggest the heaviest rain will focus near the coast around the SC and North Carolina border.

The forecast calls for as much as 40 inches (102 centimeters) of rain over seven days along the coast, with the deluge continuing even as the center of the storm pushes its way over the Appalachian Mountains. These are numbers that far exceed what fell on the same region during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Florence is forecast to move slowly over the Carolinas after making landfall Thursday night or Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Even toward the interior of the Carolinas, away from the coast, rainfall totals over 6 inches will be widespread from Raleigh to Charlotte to Columbia.

Harvey caused extreme flooding in downtown Houston and the surrounding areas, earning it the title of the costliest disaster in 2017.

Flooding from heavy rains is the second-leading cause of fatalities in tropical storms and hurricanes that make landfall.

The rain threat may not stop in the Carolinas.

Will Epperson, a 36-year-old golf course assistant superintendent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hampstead, North Carolina, but then reconsidered.

Emergency response teams have been "fully pre-positioned" to help local governments and companies like utilities cope with the damage Florence will leave, Long said - but the storm has to leave.

The Miami-based center had said earlier Friday Florence's arrival would come with "catastrophic" fresh water flooding over portions of the Carolinas.

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