Hurricane Florence’s projected track shifted somewhat south and west on Wednesday, with National Hurricane Center forecasters predicting that it could throw Georgia into peril as the storm moves inland.
The timing of the storm has also changed as forecasters warned that Florence could hesitate just offshore for days — punishing a longer stretch of coastline harder than previously feared — before pushing inland over the weekend. The hurricane center’s projected track Wednesday had Florence hovering off the southern North Carolina coast from Thursday night until landfall Saturday morning or so, about a day later than previously expected.
The new track prompted Georgia’s governor to declare a state of emergency for all 159 counties on Tuesday afternoon.
If some of the computer projections hold, ‘‘it’s going to come roaring up to the coast Thursday night and say, ‘I’m not sure I really want to do this, and I’ll just take a tour of the coast and decide where I want to go inland,’’’ said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground forecasting service.
(In the following map, “M” stands for “major hurricane” with wind speeds greater than 110 miles per hour; “H” stands for “hurricane” with wind speeds between 74 and 110 miles per hour; and “D” stands for “tropical depression,” with wind speeds of less than 39 miles per hour.)
The earliest reasonable time that tropical storm force winds could arrive on the East Coast is Thursday morning, and the most likely time is Thursday mid- to late-day.
The forecasters also expect that there will be a 90 percent chance of tropical storm force winds for parts of the storm.
A hurricane warning was also in effect for all of the North Carolina coast and the northern coast of South Carolina, while a hurricane watch was in effect for the rest of the South Carolina seaboard. A tropical storm watch was also in effect for parts of Virginia.
The overall trend is ‘‘exceptionally bad news,’’ said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it ‘‘smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.’’
‘‘This is not going to be a glancing blow,’’ warned Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. ‘‘This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.’’
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9 feet of water in spots, projections showed.
The storm is also expected to trigger “life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding & significant river flooding over portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week into early next week,” forecasters wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Seven-day rainfall totals are forecast to reach 10 to 20 inches over much of North Carolina and parts of South Carolina, with as much as 30 inches in some places.
‘‘This is going to produce heavy rainfall, and it may not move very fast,” Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, previously said. “The threat will be inland, so I’m afraid, based on my experience at FEMA, that the public is probably not as prepared as everybody would like.’’
Florence could strengthen some over open water and then weaken as it nears land, but the difference won’t make it any less dangerous, forecaster Stacy Stewart wrote in a National Hurricane Center discussion.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.