Update II (5 pm ET): As the hurricane force winds whip the Outer Banks, some brave (or possibly foolhardy) residents of Wilmington, North Carolina who have ignored the state's evacuation order shared their thoughts and fears with CBS Miami.
Businesses are boarded up, and some residents were meandering around downtown as they tried to squeeze in one last walk before the storm hit.
Claire Holroyd laughed nervously at a reporter's question.
"The anxiety was really heavy for the last week. I think everywhere you go, out to the grocery stores, everyone is panicking, you can feel it. But today I think we are all kind of resigned to our fate in a way," said Claire Holroyd with a nervous laugh.
Bob Jalbert was optimistic that the dire predictions about the potential damage from the storm could prove to be overblown - no pun intended.
"We had a Category 2 go through here a couple years ago, Irene, and it was manageable. And if this has dropped to two that’s good," said Bob Jalbert.
"Um, but the ying to the yang, I’m concerned because although it’s dropped to a two, it’s slowed down. I don’t know how long the house and the trees can endure sustained winds for so long," said Susan Jalbert.
Winds above 73 mph were already lashing the Outer Banks as of Thursday afternoon. The hurricane force winds could eventually cover 15,000 square miles. Meanwhile, the flooding has already begun.
Surf flows between two homes on Ocean View Drive in Avon pic.twitter.com/P38jYtMKVT— Jeff Hampton (@jeffhampton56) September 13, 2018
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Update (11 am ET): As Hurricane Florence speeds toward the Carolina coastline, the hurricane force winds and torrential rain are already wreaking havoc in the Outer Banks, transforming downtown Cape Hatteras into a raging river of floodwater.
Roads Turning To Rivers In Cape Hatteras, NC pic.twitter.com/fKR0NsNgVb— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) September 13, 2018
Despite the NHC's decision to downgrade Florence to a Category 2 storm on Thursday, residents should understand that these categorizations are based solely on wind speed. The storm is still expected to dump as much as 40 inches of rain in the affected areas, and could whip up storm surges up to 13 feet high.
According to the most recent measures from the NHC, Florence was still about 160 miles southeast of Wilmington, NC and is expected to make landfall early Friday. But hurricane conditions are expected to start hammering the coast on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, analysts say Florence's large wind field will only add to the damages as the storm moves inland.
"You're going to have damaging winds for a longer period of time," senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said in an update from the NHC. "So instead of maybe 120 mph winds for 30 minutes, you might end up with 90-100 mph winds for a couple of hours, or three or four hours. And that will produce a lot of damage as well as prolong the beach erosion."
With that in mind, here's the latest rain map from the National Weather Service.
A tornado warning has been issued for some parts of coastal North Carolina.
Tornado Warning including Swanquarter NC, Pamlico Beach NC until 11:15 AM EDT pic.twitter.com/YTJw0MIMuQ— NWS Tornado (@NWStornado) September 13, 2018
Far from being the biggest threat facing the US coastline this hurricane season, Florence will be followed by several other storms that rapidly strengthening in the Atlantic. As one veteran meteorologist remarked, "in my 35 years forecasting the weather on TV, I have NEVER seen so much activity in the tropics all at the same time."
Despite repeated warnings and mandatory evacuation orders, some residents have stubbornly decided to stick it out, stocking up on emergency supplies that they hope will help them survive the storm. Bloomberg reported that some gas stations in North and South Carolina have already run out of fuel.
52% of gas stations ran out of fuel in Wilmington, NC, 31% in Raleigh-Durham, 25% of gas stations in Charleston, South Carolina, 12% in Charlotte.
Meanwhile, Sen. Thom Tillis appeared on Fox to remind area residents that Hurricane Mathew was only a Category I storm when it hit North Carolina in 2016
.@SenThomTillis: “The people of North Carolina need to understand that Matthew was a Category 1 hurricane when it finally made landfall in the Carolinas, and it caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.” pic.twitter.com/1tKNVfuBOu— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 13, 2018
For anybody looking for a real-time view, this camera situated 34 miles off the coast of Cape Fear is showing the coming onslaught in real time.
Here's the tower's exact location...
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With roughly 24 hours remaining until Hurricane Florence makes landfall in southeastern North Carolina, the storm has reportedly weakened to a Category 2 Hurricane. But meteorologists warn that this isn't any reason for comfort: Because while the storm's winds have slowed (from around 140 mph to a maximum of 125 mph), the potential for devastation from what's expected to be one of the most extreme storms in American history remains acute.
And while the storm is no longer considered a "major" hurricane, CNN reports that its reach has expanded. And with the first wind bands set to batter the state beginning later Thursday, the Associated Press warned.
Despite the downgrade, officials warned that the storm will still have a devastating impact.
"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Analysts are projecting as much as $30 billion in losses due to the storm. In what looks like a best case scenario, Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 mph, but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage, Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said.
According to the NHC, The storm is expected to unleash extreme storm surges, historic flooding, and damaging winds beginning later Thursday, with the southeastern portion of North Carolina set to bear the brunt of Florence's wrath. Rainfall could range between 20 inches to a staggering 40 inches. Between the rains and the storm surge, the flooding could be "catastrophic," the Washington Post warned. As the storm moves inland on Friday, a pocket of tropical-storm-force winds nearly 400 miles wide will engulfing much of southern North Carolina and nearly all of South Carolina.
As of 5 am on Thursday, the storm's winds were topping out at around 110 mph as it barreled northwest at 17 mph. Per the NHC, the storm is about 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, NC. The storm's winds extend 80 miles from its center, while tropical-storm-force winds extend 195 miles outward.
Some of the heavy rains associated with the storm could creep into neighboring Georgia, which could see rains between 6 inches and 12 inches. In the Carolinas, the rain could break North Carolina's record for a tropical storm, 24 inches, which was set in 1999 near Wilmington. As the storm moves inland, Virginia, West Virginia , Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania could also experience heavy rains of up to 8 inches, with downed trees and flooding also a possibility.
Here's a breakdown on how large the storm surge could be in certain areas (courtesy of the Washington Post) at its highest, the surges could reach up to 13 feet:
- Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay Rivers: 9 to 13 feet
- North Myrtle Beach to Cape Fear: 6 to 9 feet
- Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet: 6 to 9 feet
- South Santee River to North Myrtle Beach: 4 to 6 feet
- Ocracoke Inlet to Salvo, N.C.: 4 to 6 feet
- Salvo to North Carolina/Virginia Border: 2 to 4 feet
- Edisto Beach to South Santee River: 2 to 4 feet
State officials continued their warnings after issuing evacuation orders affecting some 3 million people in the Carolinas. The storm's lurch south led Georgia’s governor to declare a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon for all 159 counties, with a population of 10.5 million people. In the Carolinas and Virginia, more than 10 million people are under a storm watch. Hundreds of schools have closed, and federal officials have warned that the millions of people in the storm's path could be without electricity for weeks if high winds down power lines and massive rainfall floods equipment. There are 16 nuclear reactors in the region, and crews at the one closest to where landfall is forecast readied the station, at Brunswick, for a shutdown.
President Trump has approved emergency disaster declarations for the Carolinas and Virginia, which frees up funds for relief and recovery. "We’re as ready as anybody has ever been," he said after a briefing with FEMA chief Brock Long and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
"North Carolina, my message is clear," a grim Gov. Roy Cooper said at a briefing Wednesday. "Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in."
"You put your life at risk by staying," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. "Don't plan to leave once the winds and rains start."
Both Cooper and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told the more than 1 million people who have been directed to leave that if they don't do so, they will be on their own.
Even some hardened locals who have weathered previous storms are deciding to leave, according to CNN.
"Even the rescuers cannot stay there," he said.
Already, more than 300,000 people have left South Carolina. In Carolina Beach, authorities have instituted a 24-hour curfew and ceased allowing traffic to the island via the only bridge between the island and the mainland. The town is less than 5 feet above sea level and officials worry that as many as 1,000 of the town's 6,300 residents plan to stick it out.
Susan Faulkenberry Panousis has stayed in her Bald Head Island, North Carolina home during prior hurricanes, but not this time. She packed up what she could and took a ferry. "When that last ferry pulls out...it's unnerving to see it pull away and know, 'That's the last chance I have of getting off this island,'" she said Wednesday.
The storm has captivated astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Some of them have taken to tweeting pictures of the storm.
Watch out, America! #HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye. Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you. #Horizons pic.twitter.com/ovZozsncfh— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) September 12, 2018
But even after Florence passes, several other storms are brewing in the Atlantic that could soon threaten areas along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf Coast.
Satellite imagery shared with the Associated Press shows the sheer size of the storm:
And as we pointed out earlier, farmers in the region are scrambling to find shelter for their hogs as the storm looks set to cause massive disruptions to the hog farming industry.