More than 200,000 homes and businesses across Florida’s central coast were without power Thursday as Hurricane Nicole, downgraded to a tropical storm, slammed the region with powerful winds and heavy rain.
The rare November hurricane made landfall early Thursday on the east coast of the state just south of Vero Beach as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The storm was expected to head into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday, and heavy rain could flood parts of the region.
Nicole strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane while making landfall on Grand Bahama Island on Wednesday, the first hurricane to make landfall so late in the year on the east coast of Florida.
New warnings and watches were issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwestern Gulf coastline that was devastated by Hurricane Ian when it slammed through as a Category 4 storm Sept. 28. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state — damage that many are still dealing with.
The National Hurricane Center warned that Nicole would bring heavy downpours, strong winds, dangerous storm surge and flooding. Airports and theme parks have been shut down an a swath of evacuations included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
As a tropical storm, Nicole made its first landfall at 11:55 a.m. Wednesday on Great Abaco Island in the northwestern Bahamas. The storm was reported to have maximum sustained winds at 70 mph.
Officials in the Bahamas said that more than 860 people were in more than two dozen shelters. Extensive flooding, downed trees and power and water outages were reported in the archipelago’s northwest region.
In Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that storm surge from Nicole breached the sea wall along Indian River Drive, which runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. The Martin County Sheriff’s office also said seawater had breached part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents in several Florida counties — Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin, and Volusia — were ordered to evacuate such barrier islands, low-lying areas, and mobile homes. Volusia, home to Daytona Beach, imposed a curfew and warned that intercoastal bridges used by evacuees would close when winds reach 39 mph.
About 400 people checked in evacuation centers in Palm Beach County Wednesday.
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States affected by Nicole
Nicole is expected to affect most of Florida and portions of the southeast region of the U.S. Nicole’s center is forecast to move across central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday night then into the Carolinas on Friday.
Forecasters predicted tornadoes Wednesday night through Thursday across eastern Florida, southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina. Heavy rainfall is the main concern and Nicole could trigger dangerous storm surge of up to 5 feet in areas along the Florida and Georgia coasts.
Several communities on Florida’s east coast were urged or ordered to evacuate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that 15 shelters were being opened along the state’s coast.
DeSantis said the Florida National Guard has activated 600 guardsmen, in addition to seven urban search and rescue teams on standby.
President Joe Biden also approved federal emergency aid to 45 out of 67 Florida counties, along with the Miccosukee Tribe and Seminole Tribe.
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What damages could Nicole do?
Category 1 hurricanes can produce some damage to homes, trees, and powerlines. DeSantis said Floridians should expect power outages. About 16,000 line workers are prepared for power restoration efforts.
At least half a dozen multi-story, coastal residential buildings in Daytona Beach Shores that were already damaged by Hurricane Ian are being threatened by Nicole, according to local officials.
Wind gusts north of Nicole’s eye between 60 to 80 mph will occur, with gusts close to 100 mph possible, according to AccuWeather. Damages to structures can occur under these conditions and sporadic power outages can occur hundreds of miles away from where Nicole’s center makes landfall.
Hurricane Nicole tracker
Contributing: The Associated Press