Nicole forecast to hit Florida as hurricane with strong winds, storm surge

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tropical Storm Nicole is churning toward the Bahamas, on its way to Florida, and is expected to become a hurricane Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning as it approaches the state, the National Hurricane Center said.

In an updated statement from NHC, Nicole made landfall east of Florida on Great Abaco Island, with an estimated intensity of 70 mph. The island is situated east of southern Florida in the northern Bahamas.

To officially reach Category 1 Hurricane status, Nicole’s maximum sustained windspeed must reach at least 74 mph.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a storm surge warning is now in effect from the Anclote River in Florida to the Ochlockonee River, which includes Tampa Bay.

A tropical storm warning was issued for much of Florida’s west coast, including the Tampa Bay area. Hurricane and storm surge warnings and watches were in effect for the northwestern Bahamas and much of Florida’s east coast.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 34 Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Sarasota, Pasco, Polk, Manatee, and Highlands counties and urged Floridians to prepare for the storm.

Volusia County was the first to announced mandatory evacuation orders for residents in mobile homes, low-lying areas, and other locations. Palm Beach County later announced evacuations for mobile home residents and those living on barrier islands.

A number of Tampa Bay school districts plan to close ahead of the storm.

At 1 p.m., Nicole was about 25 miles east-northeast of Great Abaco in the northern Bahamas, and 210 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida. It had maximum sustained winds at or near 70 miles per hour with higher gusts and was moving west at 12 mph. The storm was large with tropical storm-force winds extending outward up to 460 miles, mostly to the north of the center.

Nicole will be near or over the northwestern Bahamas Wednesday morning and move onshore in Florida within the hurricane warning Wednesday night. Its center will move across central and northern Florida into Georgia on Thursday, then across the Carolinas Friday.

“Do not focus on the exact track of Nicole since it’s expected to be a large storm with hazards extending well to the north of the center, outside of the forecast cone,” the center said. “These hazards are likely to affect much of the Florida peninsula and portions of the southeast United States.

Nicole is expected to strengthen into a hurricane near the northwestern Bahamas and remain at hurricane status when it reaches Florida’s east coast Wednesday night.

Florida will likely see heavy rainfall along with flash and urban flooding and possible renewed river rises on the St. John’s River, and a few tornadoes will be possible Wednesday evening through Thursday.

The storm could dump 3 to 5 inches of rain on parts of Florida and the Bahamas with some areas seeing isolated amounts of 8 inches. The southeastern US, southern and central Appalachians, western Mid-Atlantic, and eastern portions of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio could see 2 to 4 inches of rain and the northern Mid-Atlantic and parts of New York could see 1 to 4 inches.

Swells generated by the storm — which can cause life-threatening surf and rip conditions — will likely affect the northwestern Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the southeastern United States coast over the next several days.

Tampa Bay will feel the brunt of Nicole on Thursday. The area should see winds with speeds of 20 to 40 mph, but wind gusts of up to 50 mph are possible.

Highlands, Polk and Citrus counties will likely see 3 to 6 inches of rain. The rest of the area could see 1 to 3 inches or slightly higher amounts.

“Flooding is not a huge concern with Nicole because the ground has had time to dry out since the flooding seen with Hurricane Ian. River levels are all back to normal and any rain that does fall, will first soak into the ground before moving toward the rivers. The Tampa Bay area will also see far less rain than Hurricane Ian brought,” said Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Amanda Holly.

Watches and Warnings

A hurricane warning is in effect for:

  • The Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini, and Grand Bahama Island in the
    northwestern Bahamas
  • Boca Raton to Flagler/Volusia County Line Florida

A tropical storm warning is in effect for:

  • Bimini in the northwestern Bahamas
  • Hallandale Beach Florida to Boca Raton Florida
  • Flagler/Volusia County Line Florida to South Santee River South
  • North of Bonita Beach to Indian Pass Florida
  • Lake Okeechobee

A storm surge warning is in effect for

  • North Palm Beach Florida to Altamaha Sound Georgia
  • Mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown Florida
  • Anclote River Florida to Ochlockonee River Florida

A hurricane watch is in effect for:

  • Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton Florida
  • Lake Okeechobee

A storm surge watch is in effect for:

  • South of North Palm Beach to Hallandale Beach Florida
  • Altamaha Sound Georgia to South Santee River South Carolina
  • Anclote River Florida to Indian Pass Florida

Other areas to watch

The NHC was also monitoring a low-pressure system about 600 miles west-southwest of The Azores, but it has no chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm in the next five days, according to forecasters.

“The low is moving northeastward and is expected to merge with a frontal system later today, therefore development is no longer anticipated.”

The next named storm of the 2022 hurricane season would be Owen.

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