It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern SC on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Heavy rainfall began after dark.
Back in 2012, a new law in North Carolina caused Stephen Colbert to do a double-take: "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal", he said at the time.
As of Thursday morning, forecast models showed the storm bringing more rain than originally thought - officials now predict 35 inches of rain will fall in a two-day period as Florence, now a Category 2 storm with 115 miles per hour sustained winds, will stall over Wilmington after making landfall early Friday morning.
As of late Thursday, the hurricane center said Florence was 95 kilometers southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, with top sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour (90 mph).
This email will be delivered to your inbox once a day in the morning. Here's why this storm threatens not only the coast but millions of people inland.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned: "Don't relax, don't get complacent".
Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington, near where the storm hit, told CNN he had never seen a storm stay over his town as long as Florence is forecast to. "Today, the threat becomes a reality".
North Carolina corrections officials said more than 3,000 people were relocated from adult prisons and juvenile centers in the path of Florence, and more than 300 county prisoners were transferred to state facilities.
Two people died in 2015 and nearby homes and businesses experienced an estimated $20 million in damage after an area downstream flooded, the newspaper reported. "We're still going to have a Category 4 storm surge".
The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico past year.
As the driving rain and pounding winds reached land Friday, a few of the locals who made a decision to ride out the storm reached for their cameras to capture Florence's fury from a firsthand perspective.
Over 1,400 flights have been cancelled, according to FlightAware.com, as most of the coastal region's airports are closed to ride out the storm.
Russell Meadows, left, helps neighbor Rob Muller board up his home ahead of Hurricane Florence in Morehead City, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
This will take place heading into early next week.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably a 7" in terms of worry, she said. "Because it's Mother Nature".
"If this thing comes inland and stops in eastern North Carolina like they forecast it, and we get two days of continuous rain, the rain will be our biggest damage", he said.