Florence track 11pm Saturday

Forecast for Tropical Storm Florence as of 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. National Hurricane Center/Provided

Gov. Henry McMaster on Saturday declared a state of emergency in South Carolina ahead of potential impacts from Tropical Storm Florence, which is expected to strengthen into a major hurricane during the coming week. 

"Being prepared is always the best strategy," the governor said during an afternoon news conference.  "I must say that our team in South Carolina ... everyone is on alert. We've already begun moving assets in place."

An emergency declaration, however, does not mean residents should panic, McMaster said. Evacuations were not on the table as of Saturday. Much about the system's track remains uncertain, and stormy conditions were not expected until late Wednesday or Thursday.

The measure allows government agencies and organizations such as the American Red Cross to coordinate resources and begin moving them to coastal communities that would be affected if Florence makes landfall here or passes close by, the governor said.

Kim Stenson, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division, urged residents to review the state's hurricane guide and to visit the agency's website, scemd.org, for tips on how to prepare. 

The agency also has developed the SC Emergency Manager application, which is available free on the Apple App Store or Google Play, Stetson said. 

If Florence has a significant impact, it will be important that residents act as their own emergency managers until help arrives, he said. 

Stenson's agency used the Emergency Alert System to send messages to mobile phones across South Carolina, encouraging residents to begin preparing.

Florence was moving through the central Atlantic Ocean, John Quagliariello, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Columbia office, said Saturday. Rapid intensification is expected after Saturday night, and the risk of impacts to South Carolina will continue to increase as it inches westward.

The strong storm continued to gather strength throughout Saturday, reaching sustained wind speeds of 70 mph by late Saturday night — 4 mph shy of a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. Florence was 790 miles southeast of Bermuda and was moving west at 6 mph.

As of late Saturday night, Florence was expected to become a hurricane "at any time soon," and could intensify into a major hurricane by Monday, the Hurricane Center stated.

A major hurricane is classified as Category 3 or greater, with winds of at least 111 mph. 

Forecasters expect the storm to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching the Southeast coastline on Thursday, the Hurricane Center stated.

As Florence gets closer to land in the coming days, forecasters and state officials will have a better idea of its potential impact to South Carolina and the East Coast.

McMaster said all residents should take basic steps such as filling prescription medications, providing safe arrangements for their pets and gathering important documents and irreplaceable possessions if they need to evacuate. 

"It’s a beautiful day outside," the governor said Saturday. "People (are) playing football today, and probably the last thing on anybody’s mind is a hurricane. But if you look at that weather map … it could be very big. Right now, it’s headed in our direction."

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.