But the weakening winds shouldn't ease anyone in the impact zone because it's the rain and storm surge with Florence that will be catastrophic. The storm surge — essentially the water pushed ashore by all that wind — is predicted to be up as high as 13 feet (3.9 meters). That's 13 feet higher than the water level normally would be. Once Florence makes landfall some time Thursday, it's expected to regain strength and stall over inland North and South Carolina on Friday afternoon, dumping torrential rainfall — as much as 40 inches (1 meter) in some areas. The flooding from rain and storm surge could be unprecedented.
According to the National Weather Service, drowning from this type of storm surge, which can travel several miles inland, is the leading cause of death related to U.S. hurricanes. "If you're looking at a 6- to 9-foot surge ... you're not going to get out of there. You're done," says Carl Parker, a hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. "It's really important to remember that water has tremendous power, tremendous force. It can very easily destroy things."
The wind and the surging seas by themselves are deadly. But that's just the tip of what a hurricane can do.
"There are a lot of different threats," says Parker. "Rainfall flooding actually causes about a quarter of the fatalities. That can actually hit you from both ends. If you're looking at these inlets ... the rivers are filling up from all this heavy rainfall, the waters are trying to run out to the ocean, and at the same time water's coming into the ocean, so that magnifies that water-level rise in those areas."
Drowning from the rains that Parker describes, the ones that swell inlets and rivers, is the second-leading cause of death from hurricanes, according to the NWS. The rains, and the flooding they cause, can go on for days after the storm has passed.
The threats to life continue, too, in many different forms.