Hurricane Florence's top sustained wind speeds dropped from a high of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometres per hour) to 110 mph (175 kph) as its outer rain bands approached the North Carolina coast early Thursday, reducing the storm from Category 4 to Category 2.
Florence's weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who anxious that the storm could still be deadly.
Please listen to local officials and keep up to date on the latest weather forecast and hurricane track informaiton.
"Threat of freshwater flooding will increase over the next several days", read the NHC announcement, which followed warnings issued earlier in the day.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) administrator Brock Long said storm surges may bring catastrophic flooding to inland areas.
According to CNN, the category 2 storm will possibly hit as low as Hilton Head Island in SC and make its way up as far as Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina and beyond.
This is storm surge: a devastating phenomenon accompanying any tropical system.
The city of New Bern, N.C., reports that some 150 people were awaiting rescue there. In New Bern, on the Neuse River, a CNN team had to keep shifting position in a park as the water kept rising until it was too risky to stay in the area. On the inland side facing the river, Cramer says rising waters will likely be "lapping at the first floor of our elevated homes".
At this time, parts of North and SC have already begin experiencing powerful winds and flooding.
A rush of ocean water invaded the streets on the southern end of North Carolina's Hatteras Island on Thursday, according to The Virginian-Pilot's Jeff Hampton, who said arterial roads were at risk of being impassable after water overwhelmed the dunes. Cooper said over 100 shelters are open in North Carolina with 7,000 evacuees taking refuge from the powerful storm. The force of the wind has damaged the USA flag on the tower and is causing the ocean to churn. The centre is slowing down and is expected to stall and perhaps wander around just off shore on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Despite the drop in wind strength, the most risky threat comes from Florence's rains and storm surge, which could bring flooding far inland.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 miles per hour (160 kph), but that's still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage.
Behind the current monstrous hurricane, three others tropical storms exist in the Atlantic including Isaac, Helene, and Joyce.
By the time it leaves, it's expected to have unloaded 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said. "And that will produce a lot of damage as well as prolong the beach erosion". The warning also includes Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, large bodies of water in North Carolina that could see significant flooding. Florence is forecast to remain a Category 2 hurricane at landfall before losing strength over land. The Navy, Air Force and Army have been moving people, ships and aircrafts out of harm's way, though evacuations were not mandatory at bases such as Camp Lejeune. Officials are urging others in its path to follow suit or to prepare for the worst.
The message this morning is the same as it was yesterday when the hurricane was a Cat 4 with winds of 140 miles per hour.
Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.
"It truly is really about the whole size of this storm", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.