The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.
Early Wednesday afternoon in North Carolina, the storm was centered 700 kilometers (435 miles) off the coast, moving at 26 kph (16 mph) towards the U.S. coastline.
As of 8 p.m., the storm was centered 335 miles (540 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said damaging winds and rain could begin hitting the coast late Thursday, pushing a storm surge that could reach 13 feet in places. "It wants to get stronger", he said of the storm.
"We will experience power outages, we will have infrastructure damaged, there will be homes damaged, and there will be debris on the roads", said Jeff Byard, an official from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its new path indicates that after arriving in the area near Wilmington, North Carolina, the storm will dip to the south before resuming a western course, the FWS explained in the statement.
"I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence", Deal said.
SC ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents while North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination.
And it led to mixed signals from officials in SC, whose governor had canceled mandatory evacuation for several coastal counties.
Florence is so wide that a life-threatening storm surge was being pushed 300 miles ahead of its eye, and so wet that a swath from SC to OH and Pennsylvania could get deluged. "Now it might be time for the exam", Baxley said late in the morning.
Data collected during the flight allows the NOAA to keep a watchful eye on the most powerful storm to date in the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, to research its speed, intensity and structure.
Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 10 to 20 inches over much of North Carolina and parts of SC, with as much as 30 inches in some places. Most other beachgoers were long done.
"We hope to have something left when we get home", she said. "If they're telling you to leave, you have to leave", Graham said.