Why a weaker, Category 2 hurricane is still unsafe

Russian President Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok

Russian President Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok

Up to 40 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina.

Its maximum sustained winds dropped slightly from 110 miles per hour earlier Thursday to 105 miles per hour, but the storm remains a Category 2 hurricane that is expected to cause widespread catastrophic damage.

The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic stay along the Southeast coast that could drench the homes of as many as 10 million people.

Florence could bring life-threatening storm surges, up to 13 feet. That's because vertical wind shear, the change of speed and direction of winds with altitude was buffeting the southern side of Florence and preventing the development of higher, stronger thunderstorms in that part of the storm.

As of 5 a.m. EDT it was centered about 205 miles (325 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 250 miles (450 kilometers) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph). The governor added that a million or more people could be evacuated before the storm makes landfall.

"It's going to be bad", said Woody White, a county commissioner. "So instead of maybe 120 mph winds for 30 minutes, you might end up with 90-100 mph winds for a couple of hours, or three or four hours". Closer to central North Carolina, Fayetteville could see winds of 27 miles per hour. Thousands of Marines and their families evacuated from Camp Lejeune, leaving the rest to dig in ahead of what could be a direct hit.

"Think of it like a marathon", said Mark Robinson, from The Weather Network, also in Wilmington with Kourounis.

The storm is expected to slowly move inland, battering much of the United States coast for days.

On Thursday morning, the first of 60 Dominion Energy crew members left a facility in Fairfax, Virginia, and headed into the storm's path. Florence has weakened a bit over 24 hours, but it's also grown even larger - and it will likely dump torrential rain over North and SC through Monday.

Florence is one of the strongest hurricanes on the eastern seaboard in decades, and will bring a triple threat of unsafe storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds in parts of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states.

The storm's maximum sustained winds were clocked at 175kmph late on Wednesday, down from a peak of 225kmph a day earlier, before it was downgraded to a Category 3 and then a Category 2.

Industrial waste, including toxic ash from power plants, could also be spread by flooding from the massive storm, which has caused mandatory evacuations of coastal areas in both Carolinas and Virginia, the AP reports.

"This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd and Matthew", it said.

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who anxious that the storm could still be deadly.

Ferry service from North Carolina's Bald Head Island already has stopped.

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