WEATHER NEWS: After socking Florida, Nicole to bring heavy rain, tornado risk to eastern U.S.
Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 3 a.m. Eastern time near Vero Beach, Fla., bringing 75 mph winds and a damaging ocean surge as it lashed the coastline. It marked just the fourth hurricane on record to strike the United States during November.
It is now a weakening tropical storm as it leaves Florida’s west coast and enters the northeast Gulf of Mexico, but it continues to unleash heavy rain, wind gusts of 45 to 55 mph and dangerous coastal flooding in eastern and northern Florida, along both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. About 300,000 customers are without power in the Sunshine State.
The storm’s second act, which is just beginning, will bring heavy rain along its path from the Florida Panhandle into the interior Northeast, and the risk of severe storms and tornadoes to the east.
In addition to the heavy rain, strong winds and surge in Florida and parts of the Southeast, the risk for tornadoes is increasing across parts of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas. That risk will expand to cover much of the Mid-Atlantic Friday, with the threat inching as far north as Washington, D.C.
Nicole will also drench the Appalachians, dropping a widespread 2 to 4 inches of rain and soaking areas that, just days before, had been struggling with drought.
“Isolated flash, urban, and small stream flooding will also be possible on Friday in the Southeast through the central Appalachians, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, and extending northward through eastern Ohio, west central Pennsylvania, into western New York by Friday night into Saturday,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.
As of 1 p.m. Eastern time, Nicole had weakened into a tropical storm with maximum winds around 45 mph. It was about 45 miles north of Tampa, and heading to the northwest at 15 mph. The storm is projected to move over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon but it is not forecast to gain strength.
Tropical storm warnings remain in effect from Sebastian Inlet, Fla., to just north of Charleston, S.C., with storm surge warnings from Sebastian Inlet to midway between Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga.
Additional tropical storm and storm surge warnings are posted from north of Tampa through Florida’s Big Bend, where Nicole’s circulation will buffet the coastline with onshore winds for much of Thursday.
Nicole is ingesting dry air — a meteorological blessing and a curse. That’s eroded its structure and cut back on heavy rainfall, helping to weaken it, but it is amplifying tornado risk. That’s because the influx of dry air is kicking up a band of thunderstorms as it cuts beneath warm, humid air streaming in from the Atlantic.
A change of wind speed and/or direction with height, known as wind shear, is causing individual thunderstorms within that band to rotate as they pivot ashore. That will result in a tornado risk. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has hoisted a tornado watch that covers southeast Georgia and extreme southern South Carolina until 7 p.m.
On the opposite side of Florida, there was no tornado risk, but heavy rain was lashing much of the zone between Tampa and Panama City.
Nicole will continue to lose steam from a wind standpoint, but the rainfall and tornado risks will remain. It will begin to curve more north and eventually northeast as it rounds the backside of a high pressure force field exiting the Southeast coast.
Along the way, it will make a second Florida landfall along the Panhandle on Thursday night before passing close to Atlanta on Friday. By that time, it is forecast to be a tropical depression. The heaviest rain will fall west of the center as an approaching cold front focuses Nicole’s remnant moisture, with the greatest tornado risk to the east.
Through Saturday, Nicole’s trek up the Appalachians will dump a general 2 to 4 inches of rain, with the heaviest probably falling in the high terrain of western North Carolina. There, an isolated six-inch total can’t be ruled out. The westward shift of Nicole’s precipitation shield in recent forecasts will limit rainfall in places like Raleigh, Richmond and Washington, D.C., as well as the Acela corridor of the Northeast.
That stretch of Interstate 95 in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic will have to deal with a tornado threat. A Level 2 out of 5 “slight” risk for a few tornadoes covers Charlotte, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond on Friday, with a Level 1 out of 5 marginal risk for tornadoes reaching all the way into New Jersey and encompassing Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the nation’s capital.
The storm’s effects on Florida
As the storm blasted ashore in the predawn hours Thursday, it unleashed peak gusts of 84 and 80 mph near Daytona Beach and in Melbourne. Other notable gusts in the Sunshine State included: Cocoa Beach, 78 mph; Orlando, 70 mph; and Juno Beach, 62 mph. An elevated weather station at Cape Canaveral, 120 feet off the ground, clocked a gust to 100 mph.
On Thursday morning, tropical-storm-force winds — which extended as far as 345 miles from the storm center — were affecting Florida’s east and west coasts simultaneously. St. Augustine clocked a gust of 70 mph, while Clearwater Beach posted a gust to 59 mph. PowerOutage.US reported nearly 350,000 customers without power across the state.
The storm was also generating considerable storm surge, or rise in water above normally dry land. Port Canaveral registered a 3.6-foot surge — its third-highest on record, with some of the worst flooding ongoing at the time of Thursday morning’s high tide. In Palm Beach, a two-foot storm surge was recorded, and water levels were running 3.18 feet higher than usual along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, the city’s third-highest surge on record. Some places probably saw a surge closer to four feet.
Streets were flooded on Hutchinson Island, forcing officials to call in high-water rescue vehicles, with structural damage reported in Melbourne Beach off Sandy Shores Drive. Entire neighborhoods were inaccessible at St. Augustine Beach, and some flooding occurred as far south as Fort Lauderdale. The Lauderdale-by-the-Sea pier partially collapsed.
Onshore winds have shifted SE further eroding the coast at Daytona Beach. This video when winds due east. More than a dozen condo buildings have been evacuated because of structural concern, several homes (that were built in the 1960s) going into the ocean. #erosion#nicolepic.twitter.com/IDs0osE3pn
The surge also damaged portions of State Road A1A in Flagler County.
Rainfall totals from the storm in Florida generally were in the 2- to 4-inch range, but localized totals neared six inches. Select totals include: 4.07 inches in Titusville; 3.67 inches in Orlando; 2.89 inches in Fort Lauderdale; 2.49 inches in Jacksonville; 2.02 inches in Daytona Beach; and 1.83 inches in Miami.
Nicole’s landfall in the Sunshine State represents the first November hurricane to strike Florida since 1935, and marks the latest in the calendar year that Florida’s east coast has seen a hurricane. It’s also the first to hit anywhere in the United States in November since 1985.
Nicole became the third hurricane to form so far this month in the Atlantic, meaning 2022 is now tied with 2001 for most November Atlantic hurricanes on record, according to Phil Klotzbach, a tropical weather expert at Colorado State University.
The overall hurricane season as a whole is still running about 21 percent behind average in terms of total energy expended by storms, but beleaguered residents of the Gulf Coast hit hard by Ian and now Nicole know that it only takes one storm.
Nicole adds to a very busy stretch for landfalling hurricanes along U.S. shores. Klotzbach tweeted that the United States has now had at least two hurricanes make landfall in seven consecutive years for the first time on record.
By the books, the Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30.