‘Threat is increasing for South Florida’: Counties under state of emergency ahead of potential Hurricane Nicole

NOAA/National Hurricane Center/TNS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Just weeks before the end of the 2022 hurricane season, South Florida could feel the impacts of potential Hurricane Nicole, and experts said that the threat to the region is increasing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency in 34 Florida counties, including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, on Monday out of an abundance of caution as Nicole, a subtropical storm, is forecast to strengthen and potentially make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane by midweek.

Coastal flood statements and hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge watches went up along Florida’s east coast Monday morning, and officials are urging Floridians to prepare now and stay vigilant.

“We are technically still in hurricane season until the end of this month,” he said. “So don’t let your guard down just because it’s in November. It’s rare we get them this time of year, but we could still get them,” Barry Baxter, a meteorologist for National Weather Service Miami, said.

Forecasters say Nicole is “a large storm” that is expected to move over or near the Bahamas Tuesday into Wednesday, and approach Florida’s east coast Wednesday night. The latest estimates said its maximum sustained winds this week could to reach 75 mph, just 1 mph over the minimum threshold for a Category 1 hurricane.

“It’s not out of the question for Nicole to reach hurricane strength, especially given how warm the waters are in the vicinity of the Bahamas,” experts said Monday.

As of 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday, Nicole had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph and was moving northwest at 9 mph about 435 miles east-northeast of the northwestern Bahamas. It is forecast to turn northwest Monday, then Nicole’s center will approach the northwestern Bahamas on Tuesday before approaching Florida’s east coast Wednesday night.

The storm will strengthen Tuesday night and Wednesday and will be at or near hurricane strength by Wednesday or Wednesday night, the hurricane center’s latest advisory said.

“Do not focus on the exact track of Nicole since it is expected to be a large storm with hazards extending well to the north of the center, and outside of the cone, and affect much of the Florida peninsula and portions of the southeast U.S.,” forecasters said.

“I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves towards Florida.”

Florida Division of Emergency Management officials advise to stock up on a weeks’ worth of nonperishable packaged and canned foods and beverages, one gallon of water per person per day, nonelectric can openers, paper and plastic utensils, pet food and supplies, gasoline, first-aid supplies, medications, cellphone chargers, batteries, flashlights and cash and to secure important documents.

The National Weather Service Miami said in a briefing Monday that “overall the threat is increasing for South Florida” with potentially life-threatening storm surges, damaging winds, heavy rainfall and a few tornadoes on the horizon.

Florida’s east coast from the Volusia/Brevard County line to Hallandale Beach, Lake Okeechobee and the northwestern Bahamas are under a hurricane watch. The Bahamas issued a hurricane warning Monday afternoon for the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini and Grand Bahama Island.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Bahamian islands of Andros Island, New Providence and Eleuthera.

A tropical storm watch is in effect south of Hallandale Beach to north of Ocean Reef and from the Volusia/Brevard county line north to Georgia’s Altamaha Sound. A storm surge watch is also in effect from Georgia’s Altamaha Sound to the mouth of the St. Johns River to East Palatka and to Hallandale Beach.

The Weather Channel expects Nicole’s center to make landfall on Florida’s east coast Wednesday night or early Thursday, though the “worst of Nicole’s impacts on the southeast coast could arrive by late Tuesday or Wednesday and might last in some areas well through the second half of the week.”

Given that forecast, it’s likely South Florida voters will begin feeling the effects on Election Day, Tuesday, as the system brings moisture up from the Caribbean Sea. Winds between 30 and 35 mph could come to Florida’s east coast as soon as late Tuesday night, according to the weather service. Hurricane-force-winds could reach Palm Beach County and Broward County as soon as Wednesday.

Palm Beach County and Broward County both have between 60% and 70% odds of seeing sustained tropical-storm-force winds over the next five days, according to the weather service, while Miami-Dade County has between 30% and 50%.

AccuWeather, a private forecasting service, estimates Florida could see wind gusts of 40-60 mph, with stronger gusts closest to the storm’s center.

“There is an increasing risk of coastal flooding, tropical-storm-force winds, heavy rainfall, rough surf, and beach erosion along much of the southeastern United States coast, the Florida east coast, and portions of the central and northwestern Bahamas beginning in the early to middle part of this week,” the hurricane center reported.

South Florida will see the heaviest of any rainfall from the storm between Wednesday and Thursday, the National Weather Service Miami said in a briefing Monday morning. Between 4 and 6 inches are expected in parts of Palm Beach County and Broward County, though higher amounts in some areas are possible.

The weather service said storm surge levels could reach a peak of 3 to 5 feet above ground level in northern Palm Beach County, 2 to 4 feet in southern Palm Beach County and throughout Broward County and 1 to 2 feet in Miami-Dade County.

Robert Garcia, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service Miami, said coastal flood statements are in place in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade because there have already been reports of some minor flooding in the coastal areas and that coming high tides will be measuring in an upward trend before any affects from Nicole.

“It is not something that looks like it’s going to go away this week. We’re already starting to see those higher water levels, and with the storm we’re expecting them to increase,” Garcia said.

Some tornadoes may also be possible in Palm Beach County Wednesday into Thursday morning, according to the weather service.

Forecasters are also monitoring a stormy area of low pressure located 650 east of Bermuda early Monday. Forecasters said it could still become a short-lived tropical depression or tropical storm as early as today before it is hindered by upper-level winds and a cold front.

The system near Bermuda had a 60% chance of developing in the next two to five days, according to the hurricane center, down from 70% on Sunday.

There have been two major hurricanes, meaning Category 3 or above, so far this season: Fiona and Ian.

The next named storm to form would be Owen.

NOAA has predicted at least four more hurricanes will form before hurricane season officially ends on Nov. 30.

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