Subtropical Storm Nicole is expected to hit Florida with hurricane force
Hurricane warnings – threatening winds of up to 74 mph – extend from Boca Raton to Flagler-Volusia counties. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the rest of Florida’s east coast north of Miami, as well as the southern Georgia coast, indicating a high likelihood of tropical storm impact.
Strong onshore winds, primarily near and north of Nikola’s center, could fuel “life-threatening” storm surge flooding as water piles up on the coast during multiple tidal cycles, according to the National Hurricane Center. A storm surge warning, due to a dangerous rise in water over normally dry land, covers Florida’s east coast and parts of coastal Georgia.
Meanwhile, a tropical storm watch has been extended to the Gulf side of Florida, primarily north of Bonita Beach to the Big Bend area. That includes Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, which were hit hard by Category 4 Ian barely six weeks ago, as well as the greater Tampa area.
Ocean surge of up to several feet could affect areas around Tampa Bay and just north on Florida’s west coast; this area is under a storm surge watch.
Nicole, or the remnants of Nicole, will affect the East Coast Friday through the weekend, dropping heavy rain from the Carolinas to Canada. In many locations, an entire month’s worth of rain can fall in just 24 hours.
On Tuesday morning, Nicole was 550 miles northeast of the northwestern Bahamas. Maximum winds were estimated at 50 mph, and the storm was moving west at 9 mph.
Nicole is a subtropical storm, meaning it is a hybrid system that has characteristics of both tropical and non-tropical systems. Accordingly, its wind field is vast—tropical storm winds of 40 mph extend outward up to 380 miles from the center.
On the satellite, Nicole started to show some signs that she might be getting a little more tropical. However, it is still one-sided. There is a clear surface cloud vortex, but most of the thunderstorm activity has moved north of the center.
Moving over warm waters, Nicole is forecast to gradually strengthen by Wednesday, reaching hurricane strength near the northwestern Bahamas, which are under a hurricane warning.
Nicole is likely to make landfall sometime between Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph.
Tropical storm force winds could begin 18 hours or more before its arrival – or as early as Wednesday afternoon in Southeast Florida and Wednesday evening toward the Treasure and Space Coasts. Persistent onshore flow will result in coastal flooding over several tidal cycles.
In fact, much of Florida’s Atlantic coast should experience up to 3 to 5 feet of storm surge. That may not sound like much, but tens of thousands of homes in Florida are within 5 feet of sea level.
National Weather Service wrote the surge could have “significant impacts”, particularly from Palm Beach northwards with damage to buildings, marinas, piers and jetties, as well as washed out roads and extensive beach erosion.
“Evacuation efforts and flood preparations should be completed before conditions become unsafe,” the National Weather Service wrote. “Go immediately if evacuation orders are issued for your area to avoid being cut off from emergency services or taking unnecessary risks[ing] lives.”
Rain bands and storms will turn inland early Wednesday morning, but will increase in coverage and intensity during the afternoon. A few storms, primarily within 20 miles of Florida’s east coast, could produce tornadoes or waterspouts north of the storm’s center, especially between Palm Beach and near Daytona Beach.
Winds Wednesday will be 30 to 45 mph along the coast, but will increase to 45 to 60 mph within about 50 miles of Nikola’s center, with gusts to 75 mph and higher possible within its narrow core.
Widespread rainfall of 3 to 5 inches with localized totals of 6 to 8 inches can be expected in eastern Florida, with an inch or two less in the west.
“Flexible and urban flooding will be possible in parts of the Florida peninsula, along with renewed river surges along parts of the St. Johns River,” Hurricane Center wrote.
Water levels on the St. Johns north of Orlando was moderately flooded Monday morning due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Ian’s late September rains. Rains from Nicole this week are expected to cause the river to rise again to near flood stage. pic.twitter.com/6ZzJXRhdbn
— Jeff Masters (@DrJeffMasters) November 7, 2022
Eventually, Nikola’s overflow circulation and debris will be picked up along the east coast by an approaching trough or submerged in the jet stream. Its moisture will accumulate along a cold front capped by the Appalachians, bringing 2 to 3.5 inches of rain between there and the Interstate 95 corridor. The key time frame for this rain event would be Friday and Saturday.
If Nicole makes landfall at hurricane strength, it would be a highly unusual event: The Lower 48 has only seen five landfalling November hurricanes since the mid-1850s. That would make it about once every 30 to 40 years.
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