Watch Hurricane Florence live from Coast Guard tower webcam

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Want an up-close look at Hurricane Florence?

Watch the video below to see live footage from an old Coast Guard light tower, 32 miles off the coast of southeastern North Carolina. If current storm projections are correct, that won’t be far from where Florence makes landfall.

One camera, mounted on the tower’s helipad about 100 feet above the water, should capture long views, along with the hurricane-force winds whipping the American flag.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday, the flag began to shred. Soon afterward, three of the flag’s stripes were almost ripped off.

Richard Neal, a software sales engineer from south Charlotte, is now the principal owner of the Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower. Neal bought the tower at government auction for $85,000 in 2010.

Since then, he has operated it as a bed and breakfast. The 6,400-square-foot steel box has eight bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a recreation room and a workshop. They all sit on thin steel legs, 70-feet above the water.

The bed -and-breakfast business is on hold for now as Neal markets shares to people who would like to become part owners of the tower.

Frying pan tower.jpg

The tower at Frying Pan Shoals, as seen from a jet ski.

Richard Neal

Neal keeps an array of solar-powered video cameras there to capture the views.

Neal plans to ride out Florence from his home in south Charlotte.

“I wish I was out there (on the tower), doggone it,” he said. “But I’ve got to work.”

During hurricanes Arthur, Matthew and Sandy, Neal was on the tower.

“The best way to describe it is the sky turns an amazing shade of yellow or beautiful aqua green,” Neal said. “And the ocean turns from waves to these very large hills of water.”

Standing on the helipad, he witnessed the hurricane winds. He put goggles on because the wind was blowing the rain so hard it felt like bee stings.

“The wind just has this crazy force,” Neal said. “It sounds like a freight train, of course.”

The light tower was built in the 1960s to warn ships of shallow waters. It was staffed until 1979, when the beacon was automated, according to a 2012 Observer story. The tower was deactivated in 2003.

“Rust is what visitors first see when they enter the 140-foot-high Frying Pan Tower,” wrote former Observer writer Jack Horan, after spending time at the tower. “Plus corrosion. Peeling paint. Missing ceiling tiles. The tower has been deteriorating in the wind-and-wave-swept environment since Coast Guard crews left 33 years ago.”

Still, Neal says, the tower has proved itself plenty strong enough to withstand hurricanes.

Here are other cameras streaming live from the coast.

And here is what the skies look like from the Coast Guard tower:

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060; @amesalex