By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – Hurricane Florence continues to grow in strength and rose to a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Monday.
The storm has winds of around 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and is expected to increase to a Category 4 storm once it makes landfall along the U.S. East Coast later this week.
The NHC estimates the storm will first hit the southern coast of North Carolina on Thursday and continue north to Virginia by Saturday.
A Category 4 storm has winds of around 130 – 156 mph (209 – 261 kph) and is the second highest classification according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
An evacuation order has been issued for the Outer Banks area of North Carolina, with winds expected to reach 150 mph.
"The bottom line is that there is increasing confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity," the NHC said in a statement.
If Florence hits land as a Category 4 storm, it will be the strongest hurricane to make U.S. landfall in the past 20 years.
A storm watch is expected to be issued Tuesday for the coast lines of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia by the NHC as life threatening flooding, damaging winds and heavy rainfall are expected.