Fly through Florence's fury with a hurricane hunter airplane

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Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect Tuesday in three US states as forecasters and officials urge people to get ready for devastating winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Florence.

North and SC are anticipated to bear the brunt of Florence, which the National Hurricane Center said had strengthened to a Category 3 storm.

The storm is now 905 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, with landfall predicted between Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Virginia's southern border, with the first hurricane-force winds arriving late Thursday.

Cooper and his counterparts in neighbouring SC and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands.

More than 400 hundred officers from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division will be stationed in the coastal areas to help assists evacuation and protect property.

The current forecast track suggests the hurricane will most likely approach North Carolina or SC on Thursday as it gathers speed. A year ago, people would have laughed off such a forecast, but the European model was accurate in predicting 60 inches of rain for Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, so "you start to wonder what these models know that we don't", said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy.

Major US military installments may be in the path of the Florence, including the largest Marine base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and the world's biggest Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. "Also, most storms coming into the Carolinas tend to move northward, and this storm looks like it's going to stall over the region and potentially bring tremendous, life-threatening flooding", AccuWeather meteorologist Marshall Moss said. While it may or may not officially become a Category 5 storm, it will still be a major Hurricane at landfall. "We've weathered tough hurricanes before, and we will do it again".

Officials warn there is a chance of "life-threatening inundation from rising water" over the next 48 hours as Florence heads for the US East Coast.

But scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) take a different approach - they fly directly into the centers of massive hurricanes in specialized four-engine aircraft called Hurricane Hunters.

The storm is expected to threaten the Carolinas and Virginia.

Over the last 24 hours, Gov. Roy Cooper and Gov. Henry McMaster declared states of emergency for their respective states ahead of Florence.

The water could rise 6 to 12 feet in the area of Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, including the Neuse and Pamlico rivers, says the National Hurricane Center. Current estimates are as high as 10-to-20 feet of surge in coastal North Carolina (west of the Outer Banks).