WEATHER NEWS: Conditions deteriorating in Florida as Hurricane Nicole closes in
Nicole intensified into a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday evening, as it churned ever closer to Florida’s Atlantic coast. Conditions were deteriorating as the storm approached, with the worst expected overnight into early Thursday morning.
The National Hurricane Center predicted the unusually late-season hurricane would unleash a dangerous storm surge, or rise in ocean water above normally dry land, very heavy rain and damaging winds gusts. And such conditions were underway Wednesday night.
As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, weather radar showed increasingly heavy rain bands moving onshore between Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach and the eyewall, or ring of most intense winds surrounding Nicole’s calm center, just about 50 miles east of the Florida coastline.
Reports of coastal flooding were increasing as winds gusted over 60 mph and downpours intensified. The incoming storm surge, or rise in ocean water above normally dry land, had already damaged docks, boardwalks and some buildings.
The storm was projected to make landfall between 1 and 4 a.m. Thursday, with the greatest likelihood somewhere between West Palm Beach and Melbourne.
Ahead of the storm, the surge threat prompted mandatory evacuations in several coastal areas, including Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach County, where Donald Trump was staying. The former president did not plan to leave, an adviser said, although his club was closed.
The surge was forecast to increase Wednesday night into Thursday morning, peaking up to 4 to 5 feet above ground level, as the core of Nicole came ashore. Several tide gauges along Florida’s east coast showed the surge had reached around 2 to 3 feet through 10 p.m. Wednesday.
While the surge could be Nicole’s biggest hazard, especially for coastal areas, inland flooding from heavy rain and power outages from strong winds were also forecast.
The blow to Florida’s Atlantic coastline was expected to be just the first act for the large and fast-moving storm. After sweeping ashore between West Palm Beach and Melbourne, the storm was forecast to quickly head toward Tampa early Thursday, enter the Gulf of Mexico, make a second landfall on Florida’s Big Bend in the evening and then work its way up the East Coast Friday.
Water levels began rising along Florida’s east coast Tuesday, and, by Wednesday, social media video showed the ocean already overwhelming beaches, leading to coastal erosion and flooding.
Martin County, Fla., which includes Stuart, reported flooded roads Wednesday afternoon because of the incoming surge. Social media also revealed images of flooding around Palm City, Jupiter and Lantana.
At 10 p.m. Eastern, Nicole’s peak winds were 75 mph after having just made landfall on Grand Bahama Island four hours earlier when it was declared a hurricane. Centered 75 miles east of West Palm Beach, Nicole was moving west-northwest at 13 mph.
In its 10 p.m. discussion, the Hurricane Center wrote that the storm had little time left to strengthen before making landfall.
Because of its origins as a subtropical system, possessing some of the characteristics of mid-latitude cyclones, the storm’s wind field was enormous. In fact, tropical-storm-force winds exceeding 40 mph extended outward up to 485 miles from the storm’s core.
Through 10 p.m., winds had gusted over 60 mph in Daytona Beach, Stuart Beach and Cape Canaveral, according to AccuWeather.
Hurricane warnings spanned from near Boca Raton to Daytona Beach, including Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and the Space Coast. Tropical storm warnings extended as far north as Charleston, S.C., and were also expanded to include the Florida Gulf Coast from near Fort Myers to Tallahassee.
Storm surge warnings for a “life-threatening” rise in ocean water stretched from North Palm Beach northward to southeastern Georgia midway between Jacksonville and Savannah.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Tuesday for vulnerable zones of Palm Beach and Volusia counties in Florida in anticipation of the surge. St. Lucie, Brevard, St. Johns, Indian River and Martin counties advocated voluntary evacuation for some. Zones of greatest concern include barrier islands, mobile homes and homes in areas prone to flooding.
The National Weather Service wrote that the surge could have “significant impacts,” especially from Palm Beach northward, with damage to buildings, marinas, docks and piers, as well as the washing out of roads and major beach erosion.
Storm surge warnings also covered coastal regions from north of Tampa Bay through the Big Bend on Florida’s west coast, where up to 4 or 5 feet of shoreline inundation was possible, mainly on Thursday.
The storm was expected to deliver a host of effects:
The entire Atlantic coast of Florida north of the storm’s center was to expect gusts of 35 to 65 mph. Near where the core of Nicole’s circulation moves ashore, a few gusts flirting with 75 mph were possible. Such gusts could cause some tree and minor structural damage, as well as power outages.
North of the storm’s center, onshore winds were expected to push water against the coastline and cause flooding. Near and north of Palm Beach as well as in the Big Bend area, a spike of 3 to 5 feet in water levels was anticipated.
A widespread 2 to 5 inches of rain with localized 6-inch totals was forecast for much of the Florida Peninsula and the Big Bend. Ordinarily this would be unremarkable for Florida, but many locations were still reeling from flooding left over from Hurricane Ian’s assault on the state in late September. The St. Johns River, already at flood stage, was expected to rise further.
A few tornadoes were likely north of the storm’s center, primarily within small, low-topped thunderstorm cells that pivot ashore. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center highlighted a level 2 out of 5 “slight risk” of severe weather.
Tropical storm conditions were also possible between Tampa and Mexico Beach, Fla., on Thursday.
Rainfall on the East Coast
Nicole was headed west because of a blocking dome of high pressure at the mid-latitudes that had been exerting a southward push on it. By Thursday morning, that high was forecast to shift offshore, allowing Nicole to turn northward ahead of an approaching low-pressure system over the Midwest.
That low was swinging a cold front east. The front was expected to help focus moisture from Nicole, which was to stream northward.
A widespread 2 to 4 inches of rain was forecast up the Appalachians as a result. It was unclear if the higher terrain or the cities to the east along Interstate 95 would see the jackpot totals; that would be ironed out once Nicole’s path became more certain. The storm was forecast to retain gusty winds as it transitioned from a tropical to a mid-latitude storm.
“Isolated flash, urban, and small stream flooding will also be possible on Friday in the Southeast through the southern and central Appalachians, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, and extending northward through west-central Pennsylvania into western New York by Friday night,” the Hurricane Center wrote.
November is an unusual month for a hurricane to strike Florida. In fact, only three hurricanes on record have made landfall in the United States in November, and only one after Nov. 4: Kate, on Nov. 21, 1985. That hurricane struck the Florida Panhandle. Before that, you’d have to go back to an unnamed Category 2 hurricane that hit Miami on Nov. 4, 1935.
If Nicole were to maintain its strength until landfall, it would become the latest-occurring hurricane on record on the east coast of Florida, tweeted Phil Klotzbach, a tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University.
Regardless of whether #Nicole slightly strengthens to reach Category 1 hurricane intensity or maintains 70 mph winds, it will rank as a Top 4 strongest U.S. landfalling storm on record in November or December.
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 Klotzbach. Nicole followed Lisa and Martin, which also reached hurricane strength.
Despite Nicole’s unusual lateness, the 2022 season was still running slightly behind average, defying expert predictions of an active season. From a standpoint of ACE, or accumulated cyclone energy, the season to date was lagging 22 percent behind historical averages; ACE is a product of storm intensity and duration, and quantifies how much energy from warm ocean waters storms churn through.
Tim Craig and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.