Hurricane Florence is making landfall in North Carolina, creeping ashore at 6 mph – but bringing winds of 90 mph, a massive storm surge, and a rain system that will soak much of the state and South Carolina for days. Forecasters warn of "life –threatening, catastrophic flash flooding."
Florence's eyewall reached shore near Wilmington, N.C., just before 6 a.m. ET Friday morning; landfall was expected to follow near Wrightsville Beach soon afterward. At least 10 hours earlier, the storm began punishing the coastal area with sustained hurricane force winds, the National Hurricane Center said.
Because of the slow speed at which the storm is moving, its landfall — when the center of its eye moves over land — was reported to be imminent for at least an hour Friday morning.
The storm has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee from its path. And even before officially making landfall, it had already caused more than 320,000 power outages that were reported in North Carolina, with nearly 4,400 more in South Carolina.
Wind gusts of up to 100 mph were reported at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, the hurricane center said. At the city's airport, the wind was gusting at 91 mph.
Florence arrived at the Carolina coast as a Category 1 storm – its 90 mph sustained winds far below the fearsome 150 mph that it packed just days ago. But forecasters say Florence's biggest threat, as with all hurricanes, lies in its water: a storm surge of up to 11 feet, and rainfall that will trigger catastrophic flooding.
"A USGS gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels," the National Hurricane Center said, in its 7 a.m. ET update.
An ocean buoy that is about 50 miles east of the center of Florence's eye reported a wind gust of 112 mph around 7 a.m., the NHC said.
After it makes landfall, the storm is expected to move to the west, bringing its high winds and intense rain bands across the southeast corner of North Carolina and into South Carolina.
This landfall has been a long time coming: The hurricane arrived more than two weeks after the National Hurricane Center issued its first advisory fort the storm. That advisory came out on Aug. 30, when Florence was developing near the Cabo Verde Islands across the Atlantic. Its designation then was "potential tropical cyclone six."