Tropical Storm Nicole sweeps across Florida
By Mike Ives and Abigail Geiger
Tropical Storm Nicole swung across the Florida Peninsula Thursday after making landfall overnight as a hurricane. The sprawling weather system was battering the state with high winds, heavy rain, erosion and coastal flooding as it moved northwest toward a swing offshore over the Gulf of Mexico and then an expected turn to the north.
The National Hurricane Center said Nicole made landfall at 3 a.m. Eastern time south of Vero Beach, the first hurricane to come ashore on Florida’s Atlantic coast since Katrina in 2005. By 1 p.m. the center of the storm was nearing the Gulf Coast north of Tampa.
More than 30 million people were under some type of storm-related warning, and about 300,000 customers in Florida were without electricity early Thursday afternoon, mostly in Brevard, Indian River and Volusia counties along the state’s east coast, according to poweroutage.us, a site that tracks power interruptions.
Two people in Orange County were electrocuted by contact with a downed power line, the sheriff’s department said. They appeared to be the first deaths in Florida that were attributed to the storm.
The breach of a sea wall protecting drainage canals in Port Orange threatened more than 500 homes with flooding, the mayor said.
Nicole is likely to cause more coastal flooding and some tornadoes as it moves through Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas over the next two days, forecasters said.
Although the center of the storm is expected to swerve out over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon, forecasters did not think its foray into warm waters would last long enough to significantly reintensify the storm.
On Wednesday, even before Nicole made landfall in the Bahamas, the storm had breached a few sea walls in Martin and St. Lucie counties in Florida. There were also scattered reports of flooding in Palm Beach County.
Forecasters predicted several inches of rain in the state, along with large and destructive waves near the landfall site, south of Vero Beach.
Forecasters said they did not expect Nicole’s impacts to be anywhere close to those of Hurricane Ian, which left a trail of devastation in September after hitting western Florida as a Category 4 storm. Many of the evacuation orders issued along the state’s Atlantic Coast on Wednesday were not mandatory.
Still, because Nicole’s wind field stretched for hundreds of miles, a primary concern was that the storm could raise water levels along the coastlines of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
“It has a big envelope of water it’s pushing out ahead out of it,” said Tim Sedlock, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Melbourne, Florida. “So it’s going to affect a large area.”
Sedlock said that he expected to see coastal waters rise to 3-6 feet along some parts of the Florida coast. He said rapid beach erosion could potentially topple some coastal structures, particularly in the Daytona Beach area.
James Swan, 49, a former Florida resident who now lives in Utah, has been in Port Canaveral this week to attend his son’s wedding Friday.
Around 2:15 a.m. Thursday, he said, he decided to drive inland with his wife along a route that included a coastal byway and a causeway.
Normally the causeway, which crosses the Indian River and connects a barrier island with Florida’s mainland, is idyllic. But this time the conditions forced Swan’s car to hydroplane.
“Driving on the causeway with the wind and everything was, phew, something else,” he said.
The couple made it to a hotel further inland, between Melbourne and Palm Bay, minutes before the hurricane made landfall.
Parts of Florida are still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the southwestern part of the state as a Category 4 storm in September.