(RNN) - Hurricane Florence strengthened a bit, but then tapped on the brakes as it approached the North Carolina coast Thursday evening.
The National Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. Thursday update that Florence had weakened to a Category 1 storm. Despite the downgrade, Florence is expected to produce catastrophic flooding throughout the Carolinas.
At 6 mph, Florence is taking its time making it to shore, but it’s already causing life-threatening storm surges and bringing hurricane-force winds to the North Carolina coast. A surge is also likely along portions of the South Carolina coast. Hurricane-force winds are expected to spread to parts of the coast Friday.
The “threat of freshwater flooding will increase over the next several days” in the impacted areas.
“A turn toward the west-northwest and west at a slow forward speed is expected through Friday, followed by a slow west-southwestward motion Friday night and Saturday,” the NHC said.
In its 1 a.m. Friday update, the NHC said Florence was about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC, packing maximum-sustained winds of 90 mph.
It was causing a life-threatening storm surge in parts of eastern North Carolina.
“On the forecast track, the center of Florence is expected to move inland across extreme southeastern North Carolina and extreme eastern South Carolina Friday and Saturday,” the NHC said. “Florence will then recurve across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.”
The storm is not expected to change much in strength before making landfall, but states up and down the East Coast have a great potential for severe weather.
The outer bands of the storm were already reaching the coast Thursday, bringing tropical-force winds and rain. Some roads were already impassable in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The impact of Florence will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, dangerous surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to take the storm seriously.
“There is going to be a lot of rain. We are on the bad side of this storm. Our meteorologists are saying that the rainfall amounts will be devastating in certain areas,” he said.
Southeastern coastal North Carolina into far northeastern South Carolina could see 20 to 30 inches of rainfall; some isolated areas could see 40 inches. The rainfall will cause prolonged significant river flooding.
The remainder of South Carolina and North Carolina into southwest Virginia could see 6 to 12 inches, with some isolated areas seeing 15 inches. The rainfall will produce life-threatening flash flooding in Virginia and the Carolinas.
People in areas vulnerable to the dangerous hurricane, particularly those in coastal regions, have fled ahead of the storm.
About 800 flights in the region have been canceled ahead of the storm, CNN reported.
Hurricane Florence’s path could affect the homes of more than 5 million people, and more than 1 million of them have been ordered to evacuate.
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland have declared states of emergency. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency on the federal level Tuesday for the Carolinas and Virginia.
More than 10 million people live in areas under warnings or watches for hurricane- or tropical storm- force winds, CNN reports.
Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm.
A hurricane warning is in effect for South Santee River, SC, north to Duck, NC, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
A hurricane watch is in effect for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for north of Duck, NC, to Cape Charles Light, VA, for Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort, and for Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC.
In addition, the threat of storm surges looms for areas in the path of the storm, meaning life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland is possible.
Areas along the coast from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, NC, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay rivers may experience storm surges from 9 to 13 feet.
Other areas facing a surge include:
- Cape Fear, NC, to Cape Lookout NC, 7 to 11 feet
- Cape Lookout, NC, to Ocracoke Inlet, NC, 6 to 9 feet
- South Santee River, SC, to Cape Fear, NC, 4 to 6 feet
- Ocracoke Inlet, NC, to Salvo, NC, 4 to 6 feet
- Salvo, NC, to Duck, NC, 2 to 4 feet
- Edisto Beach, SC, to South Santee River, SC, 2 to 4 feet
The full impact of the storm surge on the coast will depend on whether the storm’s arrival coincides with high tide. However, the surge is expected to be accompanied by large and destructive waves, regardless of when the storm arrives.
“Tropical storm conditions are expected to spread inland across the remainder of the warning area through Saturday,” the NHC said.
The East Coast isn't the only area facing the brunt of a storm. Tropical Storm Olivia made a double landfall in Hawaii Wednesday morning, first in west Maui then Lanai, KHNL reports.
Torrential rains brought about significant flooding in some areas, with the rains expected to continue over Oahu through Thursday.
Olivia is the first tropical cyclone to make landfall on Maui in modern history, National Weather Service forecasters said.
Tropical Storm Isaac is also moving westward across the eastern Caribbean. It’s expected to bring tropical storm conditions and up to 5 inches of rain across the Windward Islands, Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico. Up to 3 inches of rainfall are expected for parts of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic and Haiti, possibly causing life-threatening flash flooding.
Helene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Thursday. It’s moving north, and is expected to turn away from the U.S.
Yet another tropical storm formed in the Atlantic Thursday night. The National Weather Center upgraded Subtropical Storm Joyce to Tropical Storm Joyce in its 11 p.m. Thursday update.
Joyce, which is about 1,040 miles from the Azores, is moving south-southwest near 7 mph. It’s forecast to gradually turn toward the northeast on Friday and then accelerate northeastward over the weekend.
And another disturbance is swirling around in the Gulf of Mexico. That system could develop into a tropical depression by Friday. The NHC is encouraging officials in northeastern Mexico, Texas and Louisiana to monitor its progress.