KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Major meat processors with operations in the Carolinas and Virginia hope for the best while preparing for the worst as Hurricane Florence continues traveling northwestward to the eastern United States.

An Air Force Reserve Unit hurricane hunter aircraft reported maximum sustained winds decreased to 130 mph with higher gusts, however Florence remains a category 4 hurricane, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

“Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 40 miles (65 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles (240 km),” NOAA said in a public advisory. “Florence is expected to begin re-strengthening later today and continue a slow strengthening trend for the next day or so.  While some weakening is expected on Thursday, Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through landfall.”

Processors are taking steps now to ensure the safety of workers, animals and processing plants. Smithfield Foods said the company is fully prepared for the potential impact of the hurricane on the company’s operations in North Carolina and Virginia which include approximately 250 company owned farms and 1,500 contract farms. More than 14,000 Smithfield employees reside across both states.

“The safety of our employees is top of mind and we will continue to actively monitor the storm's track and adjust production schedules accordingly,” said Keira Lombardo, Smithfield Foods senior vice president of corporate affairs. “We will also remain in constant contact with state emergency and regulatory personnel throughout the event.”

Smithfield also is lowering lagoon levels at company owned farms in compliance with state regulations and according to the farms’ nutrient management plans. The company is encouraging contract farmers to do the same.

Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods also has multiple operations in Virginia and North Carolina, including poultry processing and prepared foods plants, and animal nutrition operations.

“We’re closely monitoring Hurricane Florence and its potential impact to the East Coast,” said Worth Sparkman. “We’re running normal operations. Team member safety is our top priority and we will adjust production schedules if needed as the storm progresses.”

NOAA issued a storm surge and hurricane watch alerts for Edisto Beach, South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia border.

“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” the agency explained. “Surge-related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle and can vary greatly over short distances.”

Hurricane Florence is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 15 to 20 inches with isolated maximum amounts of near 30 inches near the hurricane’s track over portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states. “Swells generated by Florence are affecting Bermuda and portions of the US East Coast.  These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” NOAA reported.