Tropical Storm Nicole continues to lurch west towards Florida, as of a 1 p.m. briefing from the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
Forecasters are waiting for Nicole's westward movement to stabilize before making any formal changes to its track.
The storm, centered 530 miles east-of Sebring on Tuesday afternoon, is still projected to become a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall in east-central Florida Wednesday night.
Sarasota and Manatee counties are under a tropical storm watch, along with much of the west coast of Florida. A tropical storm watch means tropical storm conditions, including winds of 40 mph or above, are possible within 48 hours.
Tropical storm force winds whipping within rain bands are expected as they enter center and western Florida Wednesday afternoon.
Sarasota and Manatee counties are at minimal risk for storm surge, according to Nicole Carlisle, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"There's really not much in terms of surge," she said. "The winds are going to be breezy but not all that strong. We're calling for 10-20 miles an hour and wind gusts up to 35."
The National Weather Service expanded a Tropical Storm Watch to include all of west central and Southwest Florida, including Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.
What are the expected rain and flood impacts from Tropical Storm Nicole?
Current estimates put Nicole's winds at 75 mph within 48 hours, making it a Category 1 hurricane. A storm becomes a hurricane when sustained winds hit 74 mph.
As of 1 p.m., Nicole has sustained winds of 50 mph, moving northwest at 9 mph.
The impacts to Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties are still anticipated to come through tropical storm force winds.
“The track did shift a little bit further north, but the thing to remember about this particular storm is the wind field is very large and extends very far out from the center,” said Christianne Pearce, a forecaster with the NWS in Ruskin. “If it continues to shift further north, we’ll still feel the wind effects."
“Right now, we can still anticipate pretty breezy conditions Wednesday into Thursday, especially for Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte counties,” she added. “Probably tropical storm force winds for sure.”
Forecasters anticipate 2 to 4 inches of rain falling in the area, while the wind and rain threat for Charlotte and Lee counties continues to trend downwards.
As for flooding threats, Carlisle said that rivers in the area have gone down since Hurricane Ian.
"(Flooding) isn't really an issue," Carlisle said. "It depends on heavy rainfall, but we're not expecting anything higher than maybe a minor flood from previously saturated rivers."
Tides in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor are expected to drop 3-4 feet below normal tides Wednesday and Thursday.
Rivers that could go into minor flood stage Friday or Saturday include the Peace River, Horse Creek, Alafia River, Little Manatee River and Manatee River.
“The main issues would be if there’s still debris clogging up the rivers that can increase the risk of some localized flooding,” said Pearce, who stressed that the projected rainfall is not as large as with Hurricane Ian. “Most of our rivers have gone back down to normal stages, and it’s been quite a bit drier leading up to this event, that’s also good.”
Charlotte County maintains emergency operations, closures elsewhere stack up in anticipation for Nicole
The Charlotte County Emergency Operations Center announced its intention to keep its partial activation sustained, following Hurricane Ian to coordinate recovery efforts.
"Residents whose homes sustained roof damage should have tarps should have tarps installed as soon as possible or take other precautions as we can expect 2-4 inches of rain Wednesday through Friday," the county said.
Charlotte County also advised residents to shutter doors and windows in case Ian debris becomes airborne during the tropical storm.
Here's a list of confirmed closures so far as of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday:
North Port: The Disaster Recovery Center at Shannon Staub Library closed Monday evening because of projected impacts from Nicole.
The city opened a self-serve sandbag station today to help residents prepare for potential impacts from the storm.
The sandbag station is behind the George Mullen Activity Center, 1602 Kramer Way, at the end of City Center Boulevard. Bags, sand and shovels will be available, however, residents are encouraged to bring a shovel if available to reduce wait times. There will be a limit of five sandbags per vehicle.
Manatee County: Emergency Operations Center slated to close at the end of business Tuesday and reopen as soon as weather permits.
Manatee County Schools have canceled all sporting and extracurricular events scheduled for Wednesday, except for Extended Day programs. Schools are expected to open as usual Thursday.
Sarasota County: The Choral Artists of Sarasota postponed its Wednesday "Peace on Earth" concert scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Selby Gardens' Historic Spanish Point until Jan. 11 because of Nicole.
The U.S. Small Business Administration also closed its disaster field operations centers effective Wednesday because of Nicole. They will reopen Monday.
The SBA center in Sarasota County is located in Room E. at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. South.
Most of Florida under state of emergency
Most of the east coast of Florida is either under a hurricane watch or tropical storm warning.
Gov. Ron DeSantis early Monday afternoon declared a state of emergency for 34 counties in the potential path of Tropical Storm Nicole.
“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. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves towards Florida.”
The counties under a state of emergency: Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, DeSoto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter and Volusia.
Sustained tropical-storm-force winds of 40 mph or greater are likely to reach the Florida east coast as early as Wednesday night, according to AccuWeather. However, gusts of this intensity can occur on Tuesday or Tuesday night, due to the storm's large size.
Tropical storm conditions are expected in the tropical storm warning areas in Florida and Georgia beginning early Wednesday.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Nicole track toward Florida: Sarasota, Manatee under tropical storm watch