Nicole hit Florida’s east coast as a hurricane on Thursday and remains such a widespread tropical storm that it covered nearly the entire state while reaching into Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama. A large area of the weather-weary peninsula was battered by strong winds and heavy rain, with damaging sea surges in some coastal areas.
The rare November hurricane prompted officials to close airports and theme parks and order evacuations in areas that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches battered by Hurricane Ian in September.
Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 450 miles (720 kilometers) from the center in some directions as Nicole turned north over central Florida Thursday morning. It could emerge briefly over the northeastern corner of the Gulf of Mexico Thursday afternoon before moving over the Florida Panhandle and Georgia, forecasters said.
Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami advised people to understand that dangers from tropical storm Nicole “will exist in the state of Florida today.”
The storm left south Florida sunny and calm as it moved north, and could dump as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain over the Blue Ridge Mountains by Friday, forecasters said.
Nicole made landfall around 3 a.m. Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane around Vero Beach before its maximum sustained winds dropped to 60 mph (100 km/h), the Miami center said. The storm was centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Orlando. It was moving west-northwest near 14 mph (22 kmph).
Officials in Daytona Beach Shores have considered unsafe at least half a dozen, multi-story, coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian and now threatened by Nicole. In some places, authorities went door to door telling people to grab their belongings and leave.
A few tornadoes were possible through early Thursday across east-central to northeast Florida, forecasters said. Flash and urban flooding will be possible, along with renewed river courses on the St. Johns River, over the Florida peninsula on Thursday. Heavy rainfall will spread northward across portions of the Southeast, eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic and New England through Saturday.
Large swells generated by Nicole will affect the northwestern Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the southeast coast of the United States over the next few days. The storm was expected to weaken to a tropical depression over Georgia late Thursday or early Friday.
Nicole became a hurricane Wednesday night when it slammed into Grand Bahama Island, after making landfall as a tropical storm on Great Abaco Island just hours earlier. It was the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
For storm-weary Florida residents, this is only the third November hurricane to hit their shores since record-keeping began in 1853. The previous ones were the 1935 Yankee Hurricane and Hurricane Kate in 1985.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, was in one of the evacuation zones, which were built about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean. The main buildings sit at a low elevation of about 15 feet (4.6 meters) above sea level and the property has survived numerous stronger hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked if the club was being evacuated, and there was no sign of an evacuation as of Wednesday afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue teams will not respond if doing so puts their members at risk.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have announced that they are unlikely to open as scheduled on Thursday.
At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said that winds were the biggest concern and could cause significant power outages, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power as well as 600 guards and seven search and rescue teams.
“It will 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 for the storm and 15 shelters opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under a state of emergency declaration.
Warnings and watches have been issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwestern Gulf coastline devastated by Hurricane Ian, which hit as a Category 4 storm. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state — damage many are still dealing with. Ian brought storm surges of up to 13 feet (4 meters), causing widespread destruction.
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