'This Powerful Storm Can Kill': Hurricane Florence Begins Lashing North Carolina

Beach communities are beginning to feel the brunt of this "powerful" storm.

The leading edge of Hurricane Florence has arrived in North Carolina, with tropical storm-force winds carrying drenching bands of rainfall onto some beach communities, meteorologists said Thursday.

The monster storm was moving in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic stay along the Southeast coast that could drench the homes of as many as 10 million people.

Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 225 km/h to 169 km/h early Thursday, reducing Florence from a Category 4 to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which rates hurricanes based on sustained wind speed.

But forecasters warned that the widening storm -- and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day after day -- will bring surging ocean water and torrential rain.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he knows many people are watching the changing storm predictions and categories, and he's concerned because some are even saying that "North Carolina is getting a break."

It's not.

"Please hear my message," he said. "We cannot underestimate this storm."

"Don't relax; don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill," he said.

The hurricane center said in its 2pm advisory Thursday that Florence was centered about 180 km east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 265 km east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 16  km/h with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Hurricane-force winds were blowing 130 km from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 314 km from the eye.

Florence's center will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina later Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It will move near -- or over -- the coast of southern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina in the hurricane warning area Thursday night and Friday.

"A slow motion across portions of eastern South Carolina is forecast Friday night through Saturday night," the center said.

The NHC said "little change" in strength is expected before the center of the storm reaches the U.S. coast, "with weakening expected after the center moves inland."

Forecasters warned that Florence is deadly because of its size and slow forward speed.

"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. "The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact -- and we have that."

What Hurricane Florence Could Actually Look Like