"For a meandering storm, the biggest concern - as we saw with Harvey - is the huge amount of rainfall", said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.
Images captured by Associated Press journalists show the angst of evacuation and solitary beachgoers finding moments of calm before the storm. On Thursday morning, South 17th Street, usually teeming with commuter traffic by 6:30 a.m., was almost devoid of cars. However, meteorologists are warning that people in its path are still facing risky, life-threatening conditions.
And the storm is still expected to bring catastrophic winds, rain, storm surges and flooding, the National Hurricane Center briefing said.
The storm is expected to affect airports in Georgia and Virginia. This includes Wilmington. A hurricane watch extends into the Charleston area. Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, while Hurricane Helene was moving northward away from land. With it, the storm will drop significant rainfall across the Midlands - 6 inches to 10 inches - and the CSRA - 3 inches to 6 inches - Saturday into Sunday.
Although the storm is approaching the US coastline as a Category 2 hurricane after weakening from a Category 4 storm, that doesn't mean the storm will be gentle.
On Instagram, parenting blogger Chrissy Marie, based in North Carolina, posted a photo of her kids' hurricane party, complete with bright pink balloons. "It can still bring a massive storm surge ashore".
It has become likely that the storm will reverse course early next week and turn back north toward West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, albeit significantly weakened.
By late Thursday afternoon, the Carolina coasts can expect winds topping 80 miles per hour. If the storm makes landfall as a Category 2, these winds will be damaging, sustained at up to 160km/h or so with higher gusts. "I want to get them as far away as possible". This storm is a slow-moving mammoth and will linger for days on the coast, heavily affecting not only North and SC but also Georgia and parts of Virginia before moving further inland, causing devastation to entire states throughout the weekend.
He warned residents to be prepared for mass power outages that could last for days or weeks, echoing the sentiments shared by Duke Energy on Wednesday.
With the ground already saturated from recent rain, another drenching from Florence combined with winds could easily lead to trees being uprooted and widespread power outages, he said.
Trucks are rushing into the region to restock store shelves, but Peggy Dorf, a freight and logistics market analyst for DAT Solutions, says they won't be for much longer. Because the storm was so strong earlier in the week, it built up a wall of water which will push inland as the storm surge.