The wide storm has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane and forecasters expect top winds to drop more as it nears the shore, but they're sharing a giant dose of uncertainty.
"The threat of rainfall has also not diminished, and these impacts will cover a large area regardless of exactly where the centre of Florence moves".
"A Cat two moving north west at 17 miles per hour".
A state of emergency has been declared North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and residents are on a race against time to evacuate areas at high risk of devastation.
By midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington. But it could have been worse: Labor Day marked the end of the peak tourism season in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and other coastal getaways.
The powerful hurricane bearing down on the east coast of the U.S. has led airlines to cancel more than 1,245 flights and waive change fees for travellers affected by the storm, USA Today reports.
The centre said the storm would dump as much as 40 inches (102 cm) of rain along coastal areas of the Carolinas, as well as up to 10 inches in southwestern Virginia.
The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago - catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, fields and industrial sites.
Officials say people refusing to evacuate could end up alone, drenched and in the dark, as rescue crews won't go out to help in winds above 50 miles per hour.
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"Don't plan to leave once the winds and rains start", said, Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina.
"Don't relax, don't get complacent".
The New Bern Public Works Department stresses that residents should stay away from downed power lines and always treat fallen wires, and anything touching those wires, as though they are energized.
"I'm really anxious about the storm", he said standing outside of a convenience store, where he works odd jobs in exchange for snacks, such as Hot Pockets.
About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million more live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. So the land can't absorb much more water.
Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change. Both North Carolina and SC are updating their lists of emergency shelters for people caught by the storm.
Duke Energy, the nation's No 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. "We go through a lot of these hurricane scares throughout the years", Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said.
Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that has since been downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a hotel in Wilmington several miles inland. "I hope we don't but that might be the only thing that would affect us", James said. "I'm going to get killed on the road, '" Bradley said.