Evacuations underway as Florence strengthens to category 4 hurricane

Florence becomes a hurricane as it barrels toward the U.S

Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean provides update on storm track.

The storm may affect millions this week in the southeastern US, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

US President Donald Trump, whose administration faced severe criticism for a slow response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria, cancelled a political rally planned for Friday in Jackson, Mississippi, over safety concerns related to Florence, his campaign said.

Where is the hurricane now?

Rapidly intensifying Hurricane Florence could strike a direct and unsafe blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region later this week, possibly as a fearsome category 4.

Florence is now projecting hurricane-force winds (74 mph and higher) up to 30 miles from its center.

Hurricanes Isaac, which could hit Caribbean islands, and Helene, much farther out to sea, lined up behind Florence as the 2018 Atlantic season reached its peak.

At noon on Monday, Hurricane Florence blew into a Category 4 classification, a level experts previously predicted wouldn't occur until later in the week. "With Florence strengthening into a hurricane this morning and continuing to move west, Florida families need to remain alert and remember that storms like this can change course and strengthen at any moment", said Gov. Rick Scott.

What else should I know?

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia will likely experience the brunt of the storm, with a possibility of up to 40 inches of rain, in addition to hurricane winds. When South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency on Saturday, he also called anti-price-gouging laws into effect.

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"Red, no-swimming flags are flying, and everyone must stay out of the water", Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said.

National Weather Service officials in Honolulu urged residents to remain careful, noting that the difference between a Category 1 hurricane and a tropical storm is just 5 miles per hour wind speed. They urged residents to prepare - a request that ranges from fortifying homes and gathering supplies to preparing for possible evacuation orders.

"Data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter indicate that Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen and has maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour", the National Hurricane Center tweeted around 11:30 a.m. The counter-clockwise rotation of hurricanes means more damage to the storm's upper right quadrant, viewing it from above, but less impact to the lower left side.

"The chances of it going out to sea are extremely slim at this point", she said.

"There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland, and damaging hurricane-force winds", the hurricane center said. Two other storms also are churning in the Atlantic.

Though no coastal advisories are yet in place, the update said that those warnings would likely be forthcoming.

Southeastern North Carolina remains in the middle of the storm's "cone of uncertainty", with the cone extending from roughly Hilton Head, S.C., in the south to the Chesapeake Bay in the north.

"As we have seen with hurricanes in most recent years, such as Lane in Hawaii earlier this summer and Harvey last year in Texas, feet of rain can fall when these tropical storms stall", Sosnowski said.

The storm became a hurricane Sunday morning.

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