Hurricane Florence weakens, but track is shifting south. What that means for Beaufort Co.

5:30 p.m. update: Hurricane Florence has slightly weakened to a Category 3 hurricane, but its projected path is still continuing to shift south, according the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update.

The latest update shows the storm’s peak winds slightly slowing down to 120 mph, but the size of the wind field expanded. The storm’s changing trajectory over the last 24 hours has kept Beaufort County officials on high alert as the storm moves closer. The hurricane has weakened and stayed the same size throughout Wednesday, however, its total energy has increased, which would result in more storm surge for the Carolina coast.

The hurricane’s “cone of uncertainty” shifted south to contain a larger area of southeastern South Carolina this morning — including Beaufort County.

While South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the evacuation order for Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties late Tuesday morning, officials in Beaufort County are urging residents to take this storm seriously.

“We’ve had some changes in the storms direction, some that are concerning us,” Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Wednesday. “Everyone needs to be very attentive and prepared to move inward.”

Storm surge and hurricane warnings do not extend to Beaufort County, but that could change, said Michael Emlaw, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

According to the weather service’s late morning update, the southeast SC coast “has increasing potential for landfall.” The Lowcountry coast area, as well as southeast Georgia, has increasing chances of seeing significant flooding and damaging winds from the storm. However, forecasters warn that it’s still early to predict the level of impact.

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The National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. update on Hurricane Florence’s path. National Weather Center

“This forecast is changing fairly quickly, and I would not be surprised if we have a hurricane coming back off the coast back toward our area,” Emlaw said. “The uncertainty is tremendous.”

Beaufort County could see tropical storm winds between 30 and 40 mph as early as mid-day Thursday, but the area is not likely to see any direct impacts from the storm until Friday “with the strongest winds being later Saturday and into Sunday,” he said.

“It’s possible that hurricane conditions could occur on Hilton Head Island this weekend,” Emlaw said.

According to the latest models, the coastal areas of Charleston and Berkeley counties have the highest risk in the Lowcountry region for dangerous winds that could destroy trees, structures and create massive power outages.

As of 11:30 a.m., the current track of the storm has Hurricane Florence spinning 550 miles east-southeast of Charleston moving northwest at 15 mph.

Emlaw explained that there is a wide range of possibilities in rainfall amounts in the Lowcountry because no one knows whether the storm will stall offshore or move inland.

“It’s the difference between a quarter inch and 10-15 inches,” he said.

What’s more certain is beach erosion and dangerous surf conditions.

“No one should enter the surf due to life threatening rip currents,” said a statement issued Wednesday morning by the weather service.

This story will be updated throughout the day. Check back for the latest information available.

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