The driving winds and pelting rain of Hurricane Florence's western edge began to batter the Carolinas Thursday evening, giving the region a taste of what's to come as the monster storm moves ashore Friday.
After maintaining Category 4 or 3 status most of Wednesday, Florence was a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph churning about 205 miles southeast of Wilmington, according to a 5 a.m. briefing by the National Hurricane Center.
Florence is expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday (Sept. 13 or 14), likely as a Category 3 hurricane, meaning it will have winds blowing at a minimum of 111 miles per hour (178 km/h), Samson said.
A high-pressure system north of the hurricane was slowing its approach, and Florence was expected to drift at a rate of 5 miles per hour toward Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday, and move into western parts of South Carolina by midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
In anticipation of the winds and water, 1.7 million people living along the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm.
About 1.7 million residents across the states' coastlines are under mandatory evacuation orders, and tens of thousands of hospital patients and prison inmates have been moved out of Florence's path. The storm is expected to bring a life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall to parts of the Carolinas with widespread flooding expected.
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from prisons and juvenile detention centers in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.
At least 800 flights have been cancelled or grounded due to the storm's expected landfall, CNN reported.
There are fears that this storm could cause damage similar to what Houston suffered during Hurricane Harvey previous year, when homes and businesses were inundated with floodwater.
A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.
The surge could reach up to nine feet in some areas along rivers, as the unsafe hurricane will pummel the shore during high tide. However, the surge is expected to be accompanied by large and destructive waves, regardless of when the storm arrives.
The main concerns for us from Florence will be moderately heavy rainfall, which will cause flooded roadways, strong gusty winds, coastal flooding, moderate potential for downed trees and widespread power outages, and risky travel conditions.
Gov. Cooper told Morning Edition that he expects flooding could get worse as more rain falls and that the state's No. 1 mission right now is "working very hard to save lives".
Olivia is the first tropical cyclone to make landfall on Maui in modern history, National Weather Service forecasters said.
By late Thursday, people were, for better or for worse, locked into their decision: go or stay.
The storm is also predicted to bring historic rainfall of up to 35 inches to the Wilmington region. The SPCA of Northeastern NC asked the community to foster any animals without hurricane-proof kennels.
Not everyone was taking Florence too seriously: About two dozen locals gathered Thursday night behind the boarded-up windows of The Barbary Coast bar as Florence blew into Wilmington. The hurricane is now 235 miles ESE of Wilmington, North Carolina and is moving toward the northwest at 17 mph.
Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. It's forecast to gradually turn toward the northeast on Friday and then accelerate northeastward over the weekend. The NHC is encouraging officials in northeastern Mexico, Texas and Louisiana to monitor its progress.