MIAMI – The outer rain bands from Hurricane Florence began to be felt on Thursday on the coast of North Carolina, but the speed with which the Category 2 storm is approaching the coast has dropped – as forecasters had expected – from 10 mph to 5 mph in recent hours.
The storm is now expected to make landfall on Friday afternoon, although its dangerous effects are being felt already, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Florence weakened on Wednesday to Category 2 and is moving Thursday toward the southeast US coastline with maximum sustained winds of 160 kph (99 mph), the Miami-based NHC said in its 5 pm public advisory.
Florence is 160 kilometers (99 miles) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The storm is currently moving northwest at 8 kph (5 mph).
Florence had grown to a Category 4 storm earlier this week, with maximum sustained winds of 220 kph (137 mph), but gradually weakened to Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Despite this weakening, the NHC warned that Florence is a large hurricane and that it continues to represent a “life-threatening situation” because of the flooding it will produce.
According to the NHC’s forecast, the eye of the hurricane will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina on Thursday evening, “then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina” on Thursday night and on Friday.
The storm’s strength is not expected to significantly change before the eye reaches the coast, with weakening anticipated after it moves inland.
The NHC has issued a hurricane warning for South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, North Carolina, as well as a hurricane watch for Edisto Beach to South Santee River, South Carolina.
A storm surge warning has also been issued for the area, referring to the “danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline.”
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC said.
The water could reach 2.7 to 4 meters in height (9-13 feet) from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo, and Bay Rivers, where the surge will be “accompanied by large and destructive waves.”
In addition, Florence is expected to produce heavy rainfall that could reach 50-76 cm (20-30 inches).