Hurricane Florence will be the largest hurricane to hit the Carolina states since the 1980s, reaching winds of 145 miles per hour as it approaches the US eastern seaboard.
Three Category Four hurricanes have hit the region in the last century. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel crashed through both South and North Carolina with Category 4 strength winds.
South Carolina has been hit by two further Category 4 hurricanes since: Hurricane Gracie in 1959, and Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Both also went on to hit North Carolina but were less powerful when they did so.
The eye of hurricane Florence is forecast to hit the coast sometime on Thursday with hurricane-force winds becoming increasingly likely and more than 20 inches of rain set to fall in some areas.
The storm has prompted mandatory evacuation orders in many counties – resulting in panic buying in supermarkets – and stern warnings from senior officials.
“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane,” said Roy Cooper, governor of North Carolina.
When Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989, it was the most intense tropical cyclone to strike the East Coast north of Florida since 1898, killing 27 people in South Carolina and a further 34 in the Caribbean. It caused almost $10bn in damage – $7bn of which was in the US.
Hurricane Hazel killed more people in the US, hitting more of the eastern coast than Hugo. It struck the US near the border between North and South Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane in 1954.
It had already killed at least 400 people in Haiti, and then caused a further 95 people in the states. It went as far as Canada as an extratropical storm, killing another 81 people, mostly in Toronto.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter “my people just informed me that this is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years.
He added: “Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE.”
But while this hurricane is on a scale not seen in decades for the Carolina region, more southerly states have seen worse in recent years.
The worst hurricane to hit the US was Katrina in August 2005. The Category 5 hurricane ripped through the Gulf Coast to hit from central Florida and eastern Texas with 175mph winds. Over 1,000 people died in the storm, with damages estimated at over $100bn.
More than 20 inches of rain is expected to fall in coastal areas Credit: NOAA
Last year, Hurricane Irma reached a peak of 180mph as it hit the Caribbean.
With tropical storm force winds spanning a massive 70,000 square miles – larger than the surface area of England at 50,301 square miles – Irma wrought devastation to the Caribbean region, hitting many small islands before moving on to the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida.
Florence is not predicted to reach such levels, with winds expected to peak at 145mph over the Atlantic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
What makes this hurricane rare is the area which is hitting, with North Carolina only seeing one other Category 4 hurricane in the last century. Normally, storms this big don’t make it so far north because the warm water necessary to sustain them is less likely to exist there.
Large areas are at significant risk of flash floods Credit: NOAA
And, while the wind speeds of Florence won’t necessarily be as destructive as those of Irma, the rain the storm brings with it is likely to cause severe damage.
Just as when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, Florence is expected to stall once it hits land, causing tens of inches of rainfall in some places.
The NOAA has warned of “life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding” from this week into early next week.