The now Category 1 storm's intensity diminished as it neared land, with winds dropping to 90 miles per hour (135 kph) by nightfall.
National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted Florence would drop up to eight months' worth of rain in two or three days.
As of 4 a.m., maximum sustained winds were at 90 miles per hour. But these winds combined with a giant storm surge and deluge of rain are brewing havoc along the coast.
The danger came in the form of a massive storm surge.
"This storm will bring destruction", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. But the real story of the storm is the deluge its already created, and will continue to add to in the coming days. "Surviving this storm will be a test of endurance, teamwork, common sense and patience".
Cooper requested additional federal disaster assistance in anticipation of what his office called "historic major damage" across the state. Here's why this storm threatens not only the coast but millions of people inland.
About 400 Virginians are in shelters, Stern estimated.
Prisoners were affected, too.
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.
Officials said people refusing to evacuate could end up alone, drenched and in the dark, as rescue crews won't go out to help in winds above 50 miles per hour. As serene as the images are, it's hard to imagine what conditions are like in the storm and on the water under it.
What value do these reports have, especially since the wind and rain renders half of them incomprehensible?
Coastal streets were inundated with ocean water, causing damage to dozens of homes and businesses, officials said.
Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms. Wake County is not yet under a tornado watch, but it will remain under a flash flood watch until 8 p.m. Sunday and a tropical storm warning until further notice. Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles (150 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles (315 kilometers).
"A USGS gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.1 feet above normal water levels", the National Hurricane Center said, in its 7 a.m. ET update.
Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas as a giant, slow-moving storm on Friday, threatening catastrophic flooding while leaving scores in need of rescue from rising waters and hundreds of thousands without power.