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Despite the fact that the hurricane has been downgraded to Category 2, the 80 miles per hour winds and coastal flooding will still cause significant damage throughout the southeast.

The 400-mile wide storm is predicted to start slamming the Carolinas coast Thursday afternoon, then spread inland across the Columbia metro area - with Chesterfield, Lee, Sumter and Clarendon counties now under a tropical storm watch for the first time.

NOAA's National Hurricane Center (NHC) said "microwave overpass indicated that the convection over the southern and southeastern portions of the storm is still disrupted, and that the eyewall was open to the southeast".

NASA's Aqua satellite provided an infrared look at the large and powerful Hurricane Florence early on September 13 that indicated wind shear was temporarily affecting the southern side of the storm.

As of 11 p.m., the storm was centered 280 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 17 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).

Florence could bring wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (4 meters) and NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook they could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km).

By midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington. More to come on this part of the forecast.

The result could be what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence's bulls'-eye said he was seeking next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to evacuate.

"Typically, we see a stimulus effect that creates jobs and raises incomes for South Carolinians", said Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist at the University of SC.

High-definition video from space shows the extreme power of Hurricane Florence
That also means that colossal weather systems like Hurricane Florence are easy to observe as the spacecraft cruises along.

Roy Cooper urged residents in evacuation areas of his state to get out while they still can. Don't get complacent. Stay on guard.

"It's been really nice", Nicole Roland said.

Around 5.25million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Mayor Joe Benson said the storm will batter the oceanside town through two high tide periods. The problem with the Saffir-Simpson category scale is it doesn't take into account rainfall.

A simulation weather video is showing what the life-threatening Hurricane Florence storm surge might look like if it reaches a frightening nine feet. American, Delta, Southwest, United, and others will likely be canceling hundred more flights through the weekend.

The hurricane is exposing other chinks in the supply chain, as many retailers big and small are running low on storm-prep essentials, from batteries, generators and plywood to bread and bottled water.

Duke Energy warned that Florence could cut off power to anywhere from 1 million to 3 million customers in North and SC, potentially leaving them without electricity for several weeks, said spokeswoman Grace Rountree.

After Florence makes landfall, that ridge, now over Washington and NY, will move east - but be replaced by another one forming over the Great Lakes that will likely keep the storm stuck, McNoldy said.

On Wednesday, McMaster said that emergency lane reversals - using all lanes of I-26 out of Charleston and Highway 501 near Myrtle Beach for westbound traffic - will cease on Thursday, two days after the measure was instituted. "I should stay in my house, where I have water and food".