Tropical Storm Florence drew closer to the East Coast overnight and was expected to reach hurricane strength Sunday — possibly becoming a major hurricane thereafter, forecasters said early Saturday.
The approaching storm prompted North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency, a step that makes resources available for addressing the storm’s effects.
In a 5 a.m. ET Saturday update, the National Hurricane Center placed the storm southeast of Bermuda, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. It was moving west at 9 mph.
The storm was expected to bring heavy rain, dangerous surf and rip currents to North Carolina, where Cooper called on residents, specifically farmers, to make preparations.
“While it’s still too early to know the storm’s path, we know we have to be prepared,” Cooper said in a news release. “During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”
Cooper signed a transportation waiver that would allow farmers to harvest and transport their crops more quickly.
“The executive order will help gather and move crops in and through the state more easily and quickly in response to problems that could be caused by Tropical Storm Florence in North Carolina and along the East Coast,” the governor’s statement said.
Cooper said that emergency management officials were working with local and federal officials to prepare for “possible impacts” from Florence.
“We are entering the peak of hurricane season and we know well the unpredictability and power of these storms,” Cooper said.
Along similar lines, South Carolina’s Emergency Management Division was advising coastal residents to start making contingency plans.
“The risk of other direct impacts associated with Florence along the U.S. East Coast next week has increased. However, there is still very large uncertainty in model forecasts of Florence’s track beyond day (five), making it too soon to determine the exact location, magnitude, and timing of these impacts,” hurricane specialist Robbie Berg wrote in a forecast advisory.
Forecasters said it was too early to tell where Florence will go. Some forecast models indicated the storm slamming into land sometime late next week, while others indicate it would curve away from the sore. The storm reached major hurricane status Wednesday, peaking with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm, “Helene,” has formed in the eastern Atlantic off the western coast of Africa. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Friday night that Helene was located about 405 miles east of the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 40 mph and it was moving west at 12 mph.
“Since we are near the peak of hurricane season, this is a good time for everyone who lives in a hurricane-prone area to ensure they have their hurricane plan in place,” hurricane specialist David Zelinsky wrote in a forecast advisory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.