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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Tropical Storm Nicole forecast to become hurricane as it nears Florida

A satellite photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Subtropical Storm Nicole in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Nicole is the 14th named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.

By Judson Jones

Tropical Storm Nicole was forecast to strengthen Tuesday as it barreled toward the northwestern Bahamas, meteorologists said. The storm was expected to be near or at hurricane strength by midweek when it approaches the east coast of Florida.

Nicole, which formed in the southwestern Atlantic on Monday as a subtropical storm, was packing 50-mph winds Tuesday morning.

In preparation, the government of the Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for the northwestern Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center. Three to 5 inches of rain were expected across the northwest Bahamas and central and northern parts of Florida from Tuesday through Thursday, with up to 7 inches possible in some locations.

Shelters were to open in the Bahamas Tuesday morning as schools and at least 10 airports prepared to close throughout the day. Emergency management officials urged people in affected areas to evacuate and secure their homes — and even to designate next of kin.

In the United States, a hurricane warning, meaning hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours, was issued for the east coast of Florida, from Boca Raton to the Flagler-Volusia county line. A hurricane warning was in effect for other parts of the state, including Lake Okeechobee and from Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton.

Tropical storm watches and warnings were in effect for parts of Georgia and Florida, as was a storm surge warning, meaning there was a danger of life-threatening floodwater moving inland.

Meteorologists said they did not expect Nicole to have much of an impact in Florida until after Tuesday, when voters in Florida and Georgia, and the rest of the United States, will cast ballots in the midterm election.

The storm is expected to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane as it approaches the Florida Peninsula, said Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “The worst of the impact will be coming onshore during the day on Wednesday, and possibly lingering on Thursday,” Rhome said.

It is expected to “go across the state and then hook back,” he said. The timing was not immediately clear, but that trajectory means that “regardless of where the center tracks, a good portion of the Florida Peninsula will feel some of the impact” of wind and rain from the storm, Rhome said.

The National Hurricane Center on Tuesday morning advised people in the storm’s path not to focus on its exact track, because it was expected to be large, with hazards extending well to the north of the center, beyond the forecast zone.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on Monday declared a state of emergency for 34 counties that could be in the path of the storm, authorizing the state’s emergency management division to pursue emergency measures and seek federal assistance.

“While this storm does not, at this time, appear that it will become much stronger, I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Nicole is the third named storm to form in the Atlantic since Halloween and the second this month.

“This is the most Atlantic named storms to form between October 31 - November 7 on record,” Phil Klotzbach, a senior research scientist at Colorado State University, said on Twitter on Monday.

And although it may seem rare to have a named storm this late in the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, half of the seasons since 1966 have had at least one named storm form in November, Klotzbach said.

There is a chance of tying the November record set in 2001 for named storms if another area that the National Hurricane Center is monitoring in the central Atlantic becomes a named storm. This area could become strong enough for a name — it would be called Owen — once it “starts moving northeast, away from the extremely robust outflow from Nicole’s large-scale circulation,” Klotzbach said.

Nicole’s winds stretch out 380 miles from the center of the storm, according to a Tuesday morning update from the hurricane center.

“We are going to have a really big wind field,” John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said in an interview.

Tropical storm-force winds will be felt all along the east coast of Florida, with a smaller core of hurricane-force winds near the center of the storm.

The widespread strong winds pose a dual threat of dangerous winds and flooding.

“These winds, high seas, and surf will combine with high astronomical tides to bring the threat of significant beach erosion around the times of the next several high-tide cycles,” the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, said Tuesday morning.

This prolonged period of dangerous beach conditions from Tuesday through Thursday is a major concern to meteorologists at the National Weather Service.

Storm surge could reach 3 to 5 feet, and as much as 6 feet in spots along a large portion of Florida’s east coast.

This large wind field will consistently push water against the east coast of Florida and Georgia, bringing the risk of coastal flooding to a very populated region.

The links between hurricanes and climate change have become clearer with each passing year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — although the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

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