The first effects of what forecasters are already calling a large and extremely dangerous hurricane were already being seen on barrier islands Monday as dangerous rip currents and seawater flowed over the state highway. People were told to prepare to evacuate communities up and down a stretch of coastline already identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.
For many, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could carry torrential rains up into the Appalachian mountains, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous weather across a wide area.
"It's not just the coast," Graham said. "When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center."
A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist
Hurricane Isaac, meanwhile, was expected to lose strength as it reaches the
Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated coast. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago,
The parking lot has been full for three days at the Ace Hardware store in coastal
"I've been doing this since 1983," Roberts said as he completed an order for another 18-wheeler full of supplies. "This is the craziest one."
Many newcomers have moved to the coast in the nearly 19 years since the last strong hurricane -- Floyd -- threatened the area. Roberts said he's telling them to get out of town.
"I'm telling them to go inland, but I'm worried about the rain and tornadoes too," Roberts said.
Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did over
"I think this is very Harvey-esque," said
"I don't think many of us have ever been through a Category 4. And out here we're so fragile. We're just a strip of land -- we're a barrier island. ... Already we're getting some overwash, the ocean is coming over 12," she said, referring to the islands' main road.
The governors of North and
Red flags have already been flying on beaches, warning swimmers to stay out of the water as seas began kicking up. People rushed to get emergency kits ready, map out escape routes, fill sandbags and secure their homes.
"Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of
Lining up behind Florence, Isaac was about 1,150 miles (1,855 kilometers) east of the Windward Islands with top winds of 75 mph (120 kph) early Monday, accelerating on a path to cross into the lower
Helene, meanwhile, was still in the