Hurricane Florence is now a Category 4 on its path toward the East Coast with sustained winds of almost 130 mph, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Monday.
The storm gained strength as it moved over the Atlantic Ocean Monday and is expected to become an “large and extremely dangerous” hurricane by the time it reaches the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday night, the center said.
The Carolinas and Virginia have already declared a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the Outer Banks, according to Dare County Emergency Management. More than two feet of rain could fall over the higher elevations of the Carolinas and Virginia, which would generate dangerous flooding downstream.
Residents along the Southeast and mid-Atlantic coasts have been warned to prepare for a major hurricane landfall and to have an evacuation plan.
Florence could become a Category 5 hurricane between Tuesday and Wednesday before making landfall on Thursday. The official Hurricane Center forecast suggests its peak winds could reach 150 mph, just 7 mph below Category 5.
If Florence makes landfall as a Category 4 in North Carolina, it will be the strongest storm to come ashore that far north on record.
The most recent Category 4 hurricane to make landfall along the East Coast of the U.S. was Hurricane Hugo, in 1989. If Florence becomes a Category 5, it’ll be the first on record in this region, the Washington Post reported.
It looks truly remarkable in images from the International Space Station.
Cover: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence as it travels west and gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda on September 10, 2018. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)