Map of North Carolina Showing Latest GFS, European Models

Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), the storm ranked as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and was expected to grow stronger and larger over the next few days, the NHC said.

A man walks a flooded street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

"We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone", Graham said.

The weather system is now a category four storm carrying sustained winds of about 215km/h.

Hurricane Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 485 kilometres ahead of its "eye", and so full of rain that a swath from SC to OH and Pennsylvania could get deluged.

Florence is one of the strongest hurricanes on the eastern seaboard in decades, and will bring a triple threat of risky storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds in parts of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states. It's then forecast to close in on North or SC on Thursday, hitting a stretch of coastline that's vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change. "It's big and it's vicious".

Meanwhile, as scientists continue their debate, Hurricane Florence is set to cross seas a degree or more warmer than normal on its path to the United States east coast.

"This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding".

"Florence is expected to slow down considerably by late Thursday into Friday, and move through early Saturday", the NHC said on Wednesday. While it may or may not officially become a Category 5 storm, it will still be a major Hurricane at landfall.

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"This storm is not going to be a glancing blow", said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

US President Donald Trump signed declarations of emergency on Tuesday for both North Carolina and SC, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response.

South Carolina's governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee.

The exact path of Florence still has some uncertainty, but meteorologists appear increasingly confident the storm will make landfall along the coast of Carolinas or - possibly - Virginia. Sure enough, in future years it finds more storms that strengthen by more than 72kph in 24 hours, as Hurricane Florence did, and even a number of rare and super-extreme storms that intensify by more than 185kph in 24 hours. "It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane", said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, according to The Associated Press. Hurricane force winds start at 74 miles per hour.

Rainfall could be up to 20in (50cm) in some areas. No hurricane has made landfall as a Category 5 in this region on record.

Residents of affected areas have been flocking to stores to stock up on essentials. Many gasoline stations were running low on fuel. All interests from SC into the mid-Atlantic region should complete preparations and follow any advice given by local officials.

Typhoon Mangkhut is estimated to have caused $250 million worth of damage to the Phillipines with rice and corn crops bearing the brunt of the storm.

Where the storm makes landfall has implications for where the strongest winds and biggest rise in water at the coast occurs, but strong winds and extreme rainfall could occur at great distances from the landfall location.

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