With roughly 24 hours remaining until Hurricane Florence makes landfall in southeastern North Carolina, the storm has reportedly weakened to a Category 2 Hurricane. But meteorologists warn that this isn't any reason for comfort: Because while the storm's winds have slowed (from around 140 mph to a maximum of 125 mph), the potential for devastation from what's expected to be one of the most extreme storms in American history remains acute.
And while the storm is no longer considered a "major" hurricane, CNN reports that its reach has expanded. And with the first wind bands set to batter the state beginning later Thursday, the Associated Press warned.
Despite the downgrade, officials warned that the storm will still have a devastating impact.
"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Analysts are projecting as much as $30 billion in losses due to the storm. In what looks like a best case scenario, Florence eventually could strike as merely a Category 1 hurricane with winds less than 100 mph, but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage, Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said.
According to the NHC, The storm is expected to unleash extreme storm surges, historic flooding, and damaging winds beginning later Thursday, with the southeastern portion of North Carolina set to bear the brunt of Florence's wrath. Rainfall could range between 20 inches to a staggering 40 inches. Between the rains and the storm surge, the flooding could be "catastrophic," the Washington Post warned. As the storm moves inland on Friday, a pocket of tropical-storm-force winds nearly 400 miles wide will engulfing much of southern North Carolina and nearly all of South Carolina.
As of 5 am on Thursday, the storm's winds were topping out at around 110 mph as it barreled northwest at 17 mph. Per the NHC, the storm is about 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, NC. The storm's winds extend 80 miles from its center, while tropical-storm-force winds extend 195 miles outward.
Some of the heavy rains associated with the storm could creep into neighboring Georgia, which could see rains between 6 inches and 12 inches. In the Carolinas, the rain could break North Carolina's record for a tropical storm, 24 inches, which was set in 1999 near Wilmington. As the storm moves inland, Virginia, West Virginia , Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania could also experience heavy rains of up to 8 inches, with downed trees and flooding also a possibility.