White House Buckles in For Hurricane Florence

The storm's center was about 110 miles (180 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) but tropical storm-strength winds and heavy rains already were hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. "It's just not anywhere near a level of Maria", forecaster Eric Blake said.

Isaac, along with Florence, Helene and two other systems increasingly likely to form, have set a hectic pace for the Atlantic - even busier than previous year when Harvey, Isaac and Maria made landfall within three weeks of each other. "It's a nasty interplay that makes it very hard". Also, the hurricane-force winds and tropical storm-force winds have been expanding. "If I can't get back in a week, after awhile they might turn on each other or trash the place". Practically, however, that won't matter when it comes to storm surge and inland rainfall.

It's now expected to continue weakening and dissipate in five days.

Up to 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The storm surge could reach up to more than 3.9m, if the maximum surge coincides with high tide.

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Normally when we talk about the potential for hurricane damage, we talk about the impact of storm surges and high winds - both of which are, to be sure, incredibly unsafe in their own right. These could be as high as 13ft (4m) along parts of the North Carolina coast. Upon its arrival, the National Hurricane Center projects that Florence could drop anywhere from 20-40 inches of rain along the Carolina coast. It is an extremely risky, life-threatening, historic hurricane, ' North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said. According to forecasters, the center of Florence is expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday. Storm winds could intensify through the day and tonight, but weaken slightly Thursday as it nears the coast. The biggest problem will likely be mass power outages, he says.

"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1", CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

A power outage model run at the University of MI projects that 3.2 million customers will be without electricity because of the storm, mostly in the eastern half of North Carolina.

Behind Isaac, Hurricane Helene also continued to deliver good news.

This satellite image of Florence hurtling towards the east coast on Wednesday gives a sense of its massive scale. "Don't plan to leave once the winds and rains start". A hurricane hunter plane is scheduled to investigate the system Thursday.

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