What to Know
Florence is expected to become a major hurricane by Monday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Florence continues to strengthen as it moves toward the mainland, forecasters said Saturday.
The order is designed to mobilize resources ahead of the storm and to help Virginia mitigate any damage, Northam said in a release.
Forecasters expect Tropical Storm Florence to become a "major hurricane" Monday as it continues to approach the southeastern U.S. coast.
The storm strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane before noon on Monday, the National Weather Service said. Maximum sustained winds exceeded 75 mph.
Florence is over the Atlantic Ocean and its movement is expected to accelerate through the week. A major hurricane — Category 3 or higher — is expected to make landfall.
Dangerous swells generated by Florence affected Bermuda and have begun to reach parts of the Eastern Seaboard.
Northam said in a release that while the impacts are still uncertain, forecasts increasingly expect the storm to strengthen into a major hurricane that could affect the East Coast, including Virginia, next week.
"Accordingly, I am declaring a state of emergency so that we can begin to prepare state assets, and I encourage Virginians to monitor forecasts and make their own preparations now," his statement continued.
Impacts could include flooding, high winds and a possible storm surge.
The National Hurricane Center center said that although the storm could intensify to a Category 4 hurricane by midweek, it is too early to predict its exact path. But forecasters said that the risk of "direct impacts continues to increase" and that a huge coastal area from northern Florida to North Carolina should prepare for a major hit.
"Florence is forecast to be a dangerous major hurricane near the southeast U.S. coast by late next week, and the risk of direct impacts continues to increase," the hurricane center said Saturday.
Northam's declaration is designed to mobilize resources ahead of the storm and to help Virginia mitigate any damage, his release said. It would also streamline the process that the commonwealth uses to provide help to other states vulnerable to Florence.
Residents should assemble emergency kits including food, water, medications, pet supplies and important documents, Northam's release said. More information on what to include in an emergency kit and how to prepare for hurricanes is available online here. Coastal residents should also check what hurricane evacuation zone they live in.
The governor's office, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Virginia National Guard and other state agencies have already begun preparations.
Farther south, officials in the Carolinas have warned residents to prepare and to brace for impact.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency Saturday to give his state time to prepare for the possible arrival of the storm. McMaster emphasized that there was no way to know yet when and where the storm will hit land, or when evacuations might be called.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday and urged residents to use the weekend to prepare for the possibility of a natural disaster.
"We are entering the peak of hurricane season and we know well the unpredictability and power of these storms," Cooper said.
The U.S. Navy is making preparations this weekend for its ships in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area to leave port. The U.S. Fleet Forces Command said in a news release Saturday that the ships will get ready in anticipation of getting under way Monday to avoid storm damage.
Adm. Christopher Grady said in a statement that the decision was based on Florence's current track, which indicates the area could see strong sustained winds and storm surges.
The news release notes that plans could change if forecasts indicate a decrease in the strength or change in the track of the storm.
Swells generated by Florence are affecting Bermuda and could cause dangerous rip currents and coastal flooding Saturday in areas including coastal Delaware and New Jersey, the National Weather Service said.
Florence is expected to travel between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching the southeastern U.S. coast on Thursday.