At 8 a.m., Florence had top sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) and was centred 530 miles (855 kilometres) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, approaching the coast at 17 mph (28 kph).
"This storm is big, and it's vicious", Cooper (D) said. Water temperatures are running in the middle 80s and very little wind to tear it apart.
"I'm sure that after the storm, the shelter is going to be full again with other dogs needing homes, so if we can help some of these guys while they're here, then that makes more room for needy dogs back there in Hilton Head", Kozlowski says. Hurricane warnings are issued 36 hours before tropical storm force winds hit the areas.
Heavy rain may extend as far inland as Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city, though the severity will depend on the storm's track, according to The Charlotte Observer. It also could cause significant flooding farther inland, where bases such as the Army's Fort Bragg, N.C., are hubs of operations and home to tens of thousands of service members.
"This is a life-threatening situation", the center said in an early morning bulletin.
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Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and SC and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as four metres, the National Hurricane Center in Miami has warned.
One trusted computer model, the European simulation, predicted more than 45 inches in parts of North Carolina. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES weather satellites are providing some spectacular views of the group storms from space.
Hurricane Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 485 kilometres ahead of its "eye", and so full of rain that a swath from SC to OH and Pennsylvania could get deluged.
As an added punch, one of the things meteorologists are keeping an eye on is high tide, Wagstaffe said, which is expected late Thursday into Friday - exactly around the time when Florence is expected to make landfall.
By tomorrow afternoon, she said, the region may already start to see damage.
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Florence is the most risky of three tropical systems in the Atlantic.
Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.
Normally, when hurricanes get above 30 degrees North in latitude, they get pulled poleward by the westerly pattern in the atmosphere between the tropics and poles.
Even without the extreme wind speeds of a Category 5 storm, though, Hurricane Florence is likely to be a serious and life-threatening storm, Cline said.
A Tiki bar sits empty with a message for Hurricane Florence on Topsail Island, North Carolina.
Half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and numerous hog farms are on the storm's path.
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In Virginia, mandatory evacuations began Tuesday for about 245,000 residents in a portion of the Eastern Shore area.