But the weather system will have weakened by the time it hits the western side of the United Kingdom, becoming more of a storm, the Met Office said.
The hurricane center also adjusted its projected track, but kept it north of what most computer models were showing, to provide some continuity with past forecasts.
The storm is expected to slowly move inland, battering much of the USA coast for days.
The storm is also predicted to bring historic rainfall of up to 35 inches to the Wilmington region. The storm's size and area affected by hazardous winds have actually expanded, and the threat from storm and rain-induced flooding "have not changed" tweeted Rick Knabb, The Weather Channel's tropical weather expert and former Hurricane Center director.
The first large power outage in the Wilmington area also occurred Thursday morning, with the Duke outage map showing almost 1,400 customers in the Acme-Delco area of Columbus County and northwest Brunswick County without power. We'll have more on Hurricane Florence after headlines.
Services and flights have been suspended on Thursday and Friday at Wilmington International Airport on North Carolina's coast. "We're about to be in the thick of it".
Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm.
Early Wednesday afternoon in North Carolina, the storm was centered 700 kilometers (435 miles) off the coast, moving at 26 kph (16 mph) towards the USA coastline.
In fact, state rainfall records may be broken as rainfall totals reach 20-to-30 inches or higher.
Aaron Yates, like many others, said he would party at home as Florence batters the shoreline. "It's something we haven't seen. ever". "If they're telling you to leave, you have to leave", Graham said. Flash flooding is going to be a big issue soon - certainly catastrophic.
On the forecast track, the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and SC later today, then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern SC in the hurricane warning area tonight and Friday.
A Category 2 storm packs sustained wind speeds of 96-110 miles per hour (154-177 kilometers/hour) and is no longer considered a "major" storm - a class belonging to hurricanes Cat 3 and up.
WCNC-TV meteorologist Brad Panovich told WFAE Morning Edition host Marshall Terry that the shift of Florence means more rain for the Charlotte area.
Just as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Southeast, the area covered by hurricane-force winds has doubled - meaning far more people will get blasted with winds 74 miles per hour or greater. "Significant river flooding is expected as a result of excessive rainfall across area hydrologic basins". Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind, and the rain and storm surge will make Florence extremely unsafe.
But the biggest danger could be life-threatening storm surges.
US President Donald Trump both touted the government's readiness and urged people to get out of the way.
The latest storm surge has some areas under over 8 feet of water.
In Virginia, mandatory evacuations began Tuesday for about 245,000 residents in a portion of the Eastern Shore area.
The contraflow will end Thursday at noon on 501 and at 6 p.m. on I-26.
The emergency declaration enables the state to mobilize resources across Georgia to react where they may be needed.