As of 2 p.m. EDT today (Sept. 12), Florence was a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) at its location about 435 miles (700 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
It's a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm with 125 miles per hour maximum sustained winds.
Expected to make landfall by Friday, the impact of the storm will be widespread, with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge, unsafe surf, torrential rainfall, flooding and the potential for tornadoes.
"This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the hurricane center says.
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. Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland have declared states of emergency. After Florence's rain starts to fall this week, he said, the rainfall could continue through Monday.
Crews board up the Oceanic restaurant in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in preparation for Hurricane Florence.
The National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and both the governors of North and SC have warned that the storm could be extremely unsafe and mandatory evacuations are underway in many parts of the Carolinas.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned residents that time was running out to seek safety from what he called a "once in a lifetime" storm.
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Some fluctuations in strength are expected through Thursday morning.
In Virginia, 245,000 coastal residents were ordered to evacuate, including from the Eastern Shore.
President Donald Trump is urging those in the path of Hurricane Florence to act now to "get out of its way".
"Rather than a very narrow and intense band of winds, the winds are slightly weaker - but [they] cover a much larger area", NHC senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said on Wednesday.
About 1.7 million people across the three states affected - North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia - have been told to leave their homes ahead of the storm's arrival.
On Wednesday morning, Florence was extending hurricane-force winds outward up to 70 miles from its center, with tropical-storm-force winds up to 175 miles outward. "We are ready for the big one that is coming!" We're still watching the forecast track fairly closely.
"But despite that, bad things can happen when you are talking about a storm this size", he added.
Speaking about the Wilmington area and its surrounding beaches in North Carolina, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official said the inland flooding threat was "extreme".