Hurricane Nicole made landfall at 3 a.m. Thursday on North Hutchinson Island just south of Vero Beach but quickly weakened to a tropical storm with 70 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center said.
The hurricane warning for Palm Beach County through Volusia County was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, according to the hurricane center’s 4 a.m. update. The tropical storm warning for Broward County was canceled.
“Tropical threats to South Florida are decreasing this morning as Nicole made landfall on North Hutchinson Island earlier this morning,” the National Weather Service said in a 5 a.m. update. “Many Tropical watches/warnings have been discontinued with the exception of northern portions of the area.”
Despite the storm’s weakening, most of Florida is in for a day of rainy, windy weather. At 4 a.m., the storm’s center was about 60 miles southeast of Orlando, moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
The storm made landfall with 75 mph winds, putting at Category 1 hurricane strength at the time. Landfall means the center of the storm’s eye, the region surrounded by the strongest winds, has come ashore.
The storm is expected to take a diagonal path across the Florida peninsula, heading northwest and rapidly losing strength. By late afternoon, as it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, its top winds are expected to fall to 50 mph, the hurricane center said.
The storm’s wind field is unusually large, which means that wherever Nicole’s center strikes, the entire east coast of Florida is likely to face high winds, heavy rain and storm surge.
Several counties could see gusts of high wind through Thursday morning — up to 75 mph in Palm Beach County and northern Brevard County, up to 80 mph in St. Lucie County, inland Indian River County and southern Brevard County and as high as 85 mph in coastal Indian River County, according to the National Weather Service Melbourne.
A 62 mph gust was reported in Juno Beach, as the storm’s vast wind field reached South Florida and the region started to shut down in preparation for a strike by a rare November hurricane.
“Most of the wind we’ve seen so far has been confined to coastal Palm Beach,” said Chris Fisher, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “We’ve gotten some reports of coastal flooding up there around high tide this morning.”
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, coastal neighborhoods are likely to experience more flooding at the second high tide, he said.
An emergency declaration was approved by President Joe Biden for 40 counties, making federal assistance available. The majority of Florida’s counties are under a state of emergency – 45 of the 67 counties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said 600 Florida National Guard members have been activated and several search-and-rescue teams placed on standby.
At least five counties are under a hurricane warning, and all interior counties of east central Florida are under a tropical storm warning, according to the weather service. The entire east central Florida coast is under a storm surge warning, with the potential for 3 to 5 feet of surge above ground. The weather service forecasted that some waves will be greater than 10 feet in those areas.
The entirety of east central Florida will see tropical-storm-force winds Wednesday night while the Treasure Coast will see hurricane-force wind gusts along the coast, according to the weather service. Some areas that were damaged during Hurricane Ian in September may fare worse than others during Nicole.
“Coastal areas of Volusia County which suffered serious damage from Hurricane Ian remain particularly vulnerable to additional beach erosion and inundation from coastal flooding,” the weather service said.
Thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate, including in Palm Beach County. Residents can check their evacuation zone here.
The evacuations apply to about 52,000 residents of mobile homes throughout the county and 67,000 coastal residents, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.
Other counties along the coast that have issued mandatory and voluntary evacuations include Martin, Indian River, St. Lucie, Brevard, Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns.
Schools closed throughout South Florida, Brevard County, Martin County and St. Lucie counties Wednesday and Thursday.
Orlando International Airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Daytona Beach International Airport and Melbourne Orlando International Airport had all closed Wednesday. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld in Orlando also closed Wednesday.
Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, cautioned that the storm will cause power outages as trees and vegetation that were weakened during recent Hurricane Ian get knocked down.
“It is very likely that we will see outages from the storm,” Silagy said.
A total of 6,750 customers across the state reported power outages as of Wednesday evening, with the majority of them in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach counties and Brevard County.
The area at greatest risk starts in northern Palm Beach County and goes north, the National Weather Service said. Hurricane-force winds could hit that area by 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Tropical-storm-force winds, which means winds of at least 39 mph, should die down in Palm Beach and Broward counties by Thursday morning.
Unless the storm’s center passes over Palm Beach County, in which case it’s likely to get hurricane-strength winds, here are the National Weather Service’s predictions for peak South Florida wind speeds:
- Northern and coastal Palm Beach County: 40-60 mph, with gusts of more than 75 mph
- Southern and inland Palm Beach County: 30-40 mph with gusts to 60 mph
- Broward County: 5-25 mph, with gusts to 35-40 mph.
Even as the storm’s rain bands started to rake South Florida, residents were hitting the stores for supplies.
“I’m not scared of this storm,” said Michael Lemieux, 77, in the rain swept parking lot of a Costco in Davie. “I would be if I lived near the sea but I think I’m inland enough.”
Lisa Weiss of Davie, a Broward teacher, said she is using her day off to stock up on supplies. She loaded cases of water into her car as the rain began picking up. “I’m a Florida native so I am used to storms,” she said. “I think we are going to get flooding.”
Tropical storm conditions have raked the east coast of Florida in the warning areas, and hurricane conditions are expected beginning Wednesday evening or overnight in the areas where the hurricane warning is in effect.
Nicole will weaken as it moves move across central and northern Florida and into southern Georgia on Thursday and Thursday night, the center’s latest advisory said, and into the Carolinas on Friday.
Nicole is likely to downgrade into a post-tropical cyclone by Friday afternoon, the hurricane center’s latest advisory said.
“Life-threatening” storm surge is possible along the Broward and Palm Beach county coasts, the National Weather Service said. Storm surge, the wind-driven rise in sea levels that accounted for many of the deaths when Hurricane Ian hit the Gulf coast in September, could reach 2 to 4 feet in South Florida and be “accompanied by “large and destructive waves,” the National Hurricane Center said.
A storm surge watch has been extended west along the panhandle from the Ochlockonee River to Indian Pass. Storm surge watches are in place from south of North Palm Beach to Hallandale Beach, from the Anclote River to the Ochlockonee River and from Altamaha Sound in Georgia to the South Santee River in South Carolina. Storm surge warnings are in effect for North Palm Beach to Altamaha Sound and the mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown in Florida.
South Florida will see the heaviest of any rainfall from the storm between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the weather service. Between 4 and 6 inches are expected in parts of Palm Beach County and Broward County, though higher amounts in some areas are possible.
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“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the hurricane center’s latest advisory said.
From Hallandale Beach to North Palm Beach, storm surge could reach 2 to 4 feet and 1 to 2 feet from north of Ocean Reef to Hallandale Beach, including Biscayne Bay. From North Palm Beach to Altamaha Sound, storm surge could reach 3 to 5 feet, the center’s latest advisory said.
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.
This is a developing story, so check back for updates. Click here to have breaking news alerts sent directly to your inbox.
Sun Sentinel staff writers Cindy Krischer Goodman and Shira Moolten, and Orlando Sentinel staff writers Mark Skoneki and Richard Tribou contributed to this report.