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Hurricane Nicole downgraded to tropical storm after landfall in Florida

Storm is forecast to deliver heavy rain along entire East Coast

Hurricane Nicole made landfall on Florida’s east coast on Nov. 10, causing erosion to some beachfront communities. (Video: Jackson Barton, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Nicole was downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on the east coast of Florida early Thursday morning. A dangerous storm surge, or rise in ocean water above normally dry land, heavy rain and damaging wind gusts continue, the National Hurricane Center said.

The unusually late-season hurricane is now bringing maximum winds of 60 miles per hour, the center said at 7 a.m. Eastern, after it made landfall around 3 a.m. on North Hutchinson Island, about 140 miles north of Miami and just south of Vero Beach. Nearly 250,000 customers were without power in Florida Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us, the majority near the Space and Treasure coasts.

Reports of coastal flooding increased Wednesday and Wednesday night, and the storm surge had damaged docks, boardwalks and buildings.

Ahead of the storm, the surge threat prompted mandatory evacuations in several coastal areas, including Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach County, where the former president was staying. Trump did not plan to leave, an adviser said, although his club was closed.

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.

Storm effects so far

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.

Around Daytona Beach, video emerged of sea walls destroyed and a beach safety building collapsed into the ocean. A condo building in Daytona Beach Shores was evacuated amid fears of collapse due to erosion.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, Nicole’s peak winds were 60 mph and the storm was centered 30 miles southwest of Orlando. It was headed to the west-northwest at 14 mph.

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 450 miles from the storm’s core.

Through 7 a.m., the following peak wind gusts had been recorded:

  • Melbourne: 73 mph
  • Daytona Beach: 70 mph
  • Orlando: 66 mph

A weather observation on an elevated platform (120 feet high) at Cape Canaveral clocked a gust to 100 mph.

Warnings and evacuations

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Nov. 9 announced that Tropical Storm Nicole is expected to hit Florida's east coast as a Category 1 hurricane. (Video: Reuters)

Tropical storm warning spanned from Jupiter, Fla. to just north of Charleston, S.C. along the Southeast coast as well as from Bonita Springs through the Big Bend area on Florida’s west coast.

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.

Where will Nicole hit hardest? Here’s the outlook for 13 cities.

Florida impact

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. 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.

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.

Rare November landfall

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.

Nicole became the latest-occurring hurricane on record on the east coast of Florida, according to Phil Klotzbach, a tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University.

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.

Alexandra Ma, Bryan Pietsch, Tim Craig and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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