The large and powerful hurricane has prompted evacuation orders in North and SC and Virginia, as officials urge residents in coastal and low-lying areas to prepare for strong winds, a deep storm surge and a deluge of rainfall.
If the latest forecast holds, Florence will strike farther north on the East Coast than any other Category 4 hurricane in history.
The life-threatening storm is now located about 905 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and is moving at a speed of 16 mph.
Hurricane Florence will approach the coast of North Carolina and SC on Thursday or Friday.
Hurricane Florence has slightly increased in speed as it heads toward the U.S. East Coast.
The approaching storm also prompted commodity handler Cargill Inc to make plans to close meat processing plants in West Columbia, South Carolina, and Dayton, Virginia, on Friday.
Even the hurricane's intensity can affect the direction it takes, as "the atmosphere has different winds at different heights, so the winds at the upper levels may be different than they are at the lower levels", Bell said.
"Additional watches may be required later today", said the National Hurricane Center, warning inland areas have as much to worry about as the coast.
A state of emergency has been declared in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington amid concern over potential torrential rain and flooding.
"All the rainfall we're going to have, plus you talk about the wind - that means a lot of trees coming down, it's a lot of power outages, a lot of impacts with this system", Graham said.
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"Inland flooding will be a major threat and something people far from the landfall location should be concerned about", CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
As of the 5am update from the National Hurricane Center, Florence is still a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and gusts 160-170 miles per hour.
For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl, it could bring torrential rains all the way into the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other risky conditions in places that have already experienced lots of rain recently. Mandatory evacuations are in place amid forecasts for a 12-foot (3.7-meter) storm surge, and expectations of as much as $27 billion in damages.
The hurricane center is continuing to forecast very risky storm surge and rip currents kicked up by the storm for the entire N.C. coast.
"The governor said that North Carolina is the bull's eye of this hurricane", Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said in an interview.
Coastal and river communities on the north side of Florence are getting the worst of the flooding as the hurricane swirls onto land pushing a life-threatening storm surge.
According to the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the first responders will be joined by a swift water rescue and urban search and rescue teams. Edisto Beach and all other areas ordered to evacuate are still ordered to do so. He declared states of emergency for North and SC, which frees up help from federal agencies.
"Cotton is probably the most vulnerable crop from this storm", McIntosh says. "I don't know where to go from here", she said.
Rick Leuttich directs the University of North Carolina's Institute of Marine Science Morehead City, and is one of the principal developers of the ADCIRC coastal circulation and storm surge model.
Hurricane Florence continues to grow in size and magnitude as it barrels toward the U.S. East Coast.