Hurricane Nicole on course to hit Florida Thursday
Nicole forced people out of their homes when it hit the Bahamas as a rare November hurricane Wednesday. Amusement parks and airports had been closed and evacuation orders issued, including former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, in anticipation of landing in Florida by early Thursday morning.
The National Hurricane Center estimated that Nicole had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm because it made landfall on Grand Bahama Island. As of 10 p.m. ET, the storm was about 75 miles north-northeast of West Palm Beach, Fla., and moving west-northwest at 13 miles per hour, the NHC said.
Landing in Florida was expected late Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning, somewhere between Vero Beach and West Palm Beach. The storm was then expected to move across the peninsula and hit the west coast of Florida around 1 p.m. ET Thursday, causing more storm surges on the Gulf Coast side of the state.
Nicole was forecast to “move Thursday and Thursday evenings through central and northern Florida to southern Georgia and Friday to the Carolinas,” the NHC said in its latest advisory. It was expected to weaken into a post-tropical cyclone by Friday afternoon, but not before bringing several inches of rain to the region, along with the risk of flooding and the threat of tornadoes.
Hundreds of people took shelter in the northwestern Bahamas from the approaching storm that had already washed seawater across the streets of barrier islands in Florida. Before making landfall, the storm had washed away part of a dam on Florida’s east coast, causing seafront buildings to shake and at least one to collapse.
The NHC said the center of the spreading storm made landfall on Great Abaco Island around noon Wednesday as a tropical storm with estimated maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. It became a hurricane when it hit the island of Grand Bahama.
Officials in the Bahamas said more than 860 people were in more than two dozen shelters. Extensive flooding, downed trees, and power and water outages were reported from the north-western region of the archipelago.
Nicole is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Doriana Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019 before hitting Florida.
Authorities were particularly concerned about a large Haitian community in Great Abaco that was destroyed by Dorian and has since grown from 50 acres to 200 acres.
“Don’t put yourself in danger,” said Zhivago Dames, deputy commissioner for police information, as he urged everyone to stay indoors. “Our first responders are out there. But they will not risk their lives.”
In Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that storm surge from Hurricane Nicole had already breached the seawall along Indian River Drive, which runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. The Martin County Sheriff’s Office also said seawater breached part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents in several Florida counties — Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin and Volusia — have been ordered to evacuate such barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. Volusia, home of Daytona Beach, imposed a curfew and warned that intercoastal bridges used by evacuees would be closed if winds reached 39mph.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, is in one of these evacuation zones, about a quarter mile inland from the sea. The main buildings are on a small rise about 15 feet above sea level and the property has survived numerous major hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up on Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked if the club was being evacuated and there were no signs of an evacuation by early afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue workers will not respond if doing so puts their members at risk.
In Lee County, debris left behind by Hurricane Ian could become deadly missiles as wind speeds increase. A four to six foot storm surge is expected to inundate areas already inundated by Ian.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort said they would close early Wednesday and likely not reopen Thursday as planned.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would cease operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, was scheduled to close at 4 p.m. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport were experiencing some flight delays and cancellations, but both planned to remain open.
As of Tuesday night, Miami International Airport officials said there were 50 cancellations — 26 arrivals and 24 departures — because of Nicole, CBS Miami reported. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International officials said 89 flights were affected — 44 arrivals and 45 departures, according to CBS Miami.
Tampa International Airport, located on the state’s Gulf Coast, said it plans to remain open.
“After reviewing the Tampa Bay area forecast for Tropical Storm Nicole this morning, TPA does not anticipate a significant weather impact that would warrant closing the airport,” the airport said in a statement, noting that airlines continue to cancel scheduled flights or change could fly in and out of TPA.
At a press conference in Tallahassee, Governor Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and there could be significant power outages, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well as 600 guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams.
“It’s going to affect large parts of the state of Florida throughout the day,” DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landfall.
Nearly two dozen school districts closed schools because of the storm, including schools in Broward County, and 15 shelters have opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
A state of emergency has been declared in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties.
Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Floridanans should expect possible tornadoes, currents and flash floods.
The storm also delayed the start NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket. The rocket will remain on the launch pad for now, NASA said, saying it can withstand winds of up to 85 miles per hour.
Bahamas Premier Philip Brave Davis, who is with the COP27 UN climate summitdrew attention to the connection between storms and climate change.
“Storms have always existed, but as carbon emissions warm the planet, Storms are increasing in intensity and frequencyhe said. “I know weathering another storm is especially difficult for those in Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
Since records began in 1853, only two hurricanes have made landfall in Florida in November — the 1935 Yankee and Hurricane Kate of 1985.
New alerts and vigils have been issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwest Gulf Coast, which has been devastated by Hurricane Ianwhich struck on September 28 as a Category 4 storm. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state – damage that many are still grappling with.
In Florida, the “combination of a dangerous storm surge and the high tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be inundated by rising water moving inland from the coast,” the hurricane center said.
Hurricane specialist Brown said the storm will affect a large part of the state.
“Because the system is so large, almost all of Florida’s east coast, with the exception of the extreme southeastern portion and the Keys, will receive tropical gale force winds,” he said.
The storm is expected to move into south Georgia via central and north Florida on Thursday, forecasters said. It was then forecast to move over the Carolinas on Friday.
“We will be concerned about rain when we arrive later in the week in parts of the Southeastern United States and southern Appalachia where there could be flooding and flash flooding with those rains,” Brown said.
Early Wednesday in Florida, President Biden declared a state of emergency and ordered federal assistance to complement state, tribal and local response efforts to the approaching storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still responding to those in need from Hurricane Ian.
Scores of people snapped videos of the choppy ocean on the beach north of Mar-a-Lago as wind gusts neared 40 miles per hour on Wednesday afternoon. The normally calm water had fast, strong surf with 5ft breakers.
Denny DeHaven, who works for a Social Security advocacy group, said he lives inland so he’s not overly concerned.
“It’s just going to be Category 1 – the thing I’m most concerned about is a blackout,” he said. “The people I’m concerned about are those who live around here after seeing what happened in Fort Myers.” Hurricane Ian brought storm surges of up to 13 feet in late September and caused widespread destruction.
In a video posted to Twitter, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the tide had already arrived and dozens of oceanfront buildings had been declared structurally unsafe. Mandatory evacuation was issued for the beach side and a curfew was scheduled for 7 p.m
“We’re expecting a really tough night here,” said Chitwood. “This is not the time for hurricane fatigue. This is the final window of opportunity to secure your families and property and potentially save some lives here.”