As of Tuesday, about 1.7 million people in North and SC and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents.
The latest forecasts show the storm lingering near the coast and bringing intense inland flooding from SC, where some areas could see as much as 40 inches (1m) of rain, to Virginia.
Florence is moving 16 miles per hour northwest with a maximum sustained wind of 120 miles per hour and the eye is expected to first land in southern North Carolina near the SC border.
As of Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), about 1.7 million people in North and SC and Virginia were under warnings to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents. The entire coastlines of North and SC, in addition to some parts of southeastern Virginia, are under a mandatory evacuation plan.
As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
Speciale said there is also potential for the Category 4 hurricane to head south along the coast before making substantial land impact. "We are ready for the big one that is coming!"
On the forecast track, the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas today, and approach the coast of North Carolina or SC in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday and move slowly near the coastline through Saturday.
The storm is expected to hit the Carolinas hard later this week.
While the storm's maximum sustained winds edged lower on Wednesday, those of tropical-storm-force expanded outward, extending 195 miles and putting more people at risk when the storm finally comes ashore, expected near the border separating the Carolinas. As of now, Florence is due to make landfall very early Friday morning, somewhere in the Carolinas.
It's all eyes on Hurricane Florence over the next several days.
"The time to prepare is nearly over", Cooper warned.
Florence is the most risky of three tropical systems in the Atlantic.
Emergency preparations in the area included activating 2800 National Guard troops in North Carolina, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that major roads led away from shore and securing 16 nuclear reactors in the three-state region.
"It looks like the hurricane should approach the Wilmington, N.C., area and then potentially stall before shifting south and perhaps paralleling along the coastline towards the Savannah area", Speciale said. "It goes well inland".
President Trump says the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders are poised to help - but he also warned people to get out of the storm's path. You never know. But we know.