Nearly the entire coastline of Florida was under a watch or warning Tuesday as a massive Tropical Storm Nicole was set to make landfall Wednesday on the state’s east coast.
Nicole was expected to strengthen into a hurricane before it reaches the coast, the National Hurricane Center said in its 7 p.m. advisory. That would be historic because no storm on record has ever made landfall on Florida’s east coast this late in the Atlantic hurricane season, Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University tweeted Tuesday.
The Tampa Bay area could start to feel stronger winds as early as Wednesday afternoon, with the worst conditions expected during the day Thursday, according to Christianne Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay.
“It’s so big, and actually moving at 9 mph currently, and I think it could actually speed up a little bit,” Pearce said. “So it’s definitely not going to be as long-lasting as Ian was.”
The areas around Tampa Bay could see one to two inches of rain, and counties farther to the north like Citrus and Hernando could see two to four inches, Mike Clay, a meteorologist with Spectrum Bay News 9, wrote in his midday advisory Tuesday.
A myriad of watches and warnings were in effect for the east and west coasts of Florida. The Hurricane Center had a hurricane warning in effect for much of the east coast and a tropical-storm watch over Central and Northwest Florida’s coast.
With a storm comes the possibility of storm surge, one of the most dangerous aspects of a tropical storm or hurricane. Areas on the east coast could see a surge as high as five feet.
In the Tampa Bay area, a surge could reach up to 3 feet, according to the Hurricane Center.
Clay said peak wind gusts will be around 40 to 50 mph in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday. The threat of storm surge in the region is not significant, according to Clay, who estimated that two to four feet on Thursday afternoon would be the worst case scenario for Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.
Pearce said river levels in the area have returned to normal since Ian, but if any debris remains from the storm it could cause drainage issues. However, as of Tuesday, the weather service was not predicting any major flooding.
Though the strongest winds are expected on the east coast, tropical storm-force winds still can knock out power, so it’s always a good idea to be prepared, Pearce said.
Nicole was about 250 miles northeast of the Bahamas Tuesday evening and about 360 miles east of West Palm Beach. The system was moving west-southwest at 10 mph and had maximum wind speeds of 65 mph, the Hurricane Center said in its 7 p.m. advisory. Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 380 miles from its center.
Forecasters expected Nicole to head generally west through Wednesday and then turn to the northwest on Thursday. After moving near or over the Bahamas on Wednesday, the storm will approach the east coast of Florida by Wednesday night or early Thursday. Nicole’s center is forecast to move across central and northern Florida on Thursday and then into southern Georgia by Friday morning.
“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, outside of the forecast cone. These hazards are likely to affect much of the Florida peninsula and portions of the southeast U.S.,” the Hurricane Center said.
The Hurricane Center said Nicole will bring heavy rain Wednesday and Thursday across Florida’s peninsula, and flash and urban flooding is possible along with rising rivers. The storm will weaken as it moves inland over Florida and picks up speed as it moves northeast over the United States.
Nicole was previously a subtropical storm and had elements of both typical low-pressure systems and tropical systems like hurricanes. Tropical storms tend to generate more rain than subtropical storm, according to the National Weather Service.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency for 34 counties ahead of Nicole, including for Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
A summary of watches and warnings
A hurricane warning was in effect Tuesday for the Abacos; Berry Islands; Bimini; and Grand Bahama Island in the northwestern Bahamas. In Florida, the hurricane warning stretched from Boca Raton to the Flagler and Volusia County line.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Andros Island, New Providence and Eleuthera in the northwestern Bahamas. In Florida, the tropical storm warning included a stretch of the east coast from Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton; from the Flagler/Volusia county line to Altamaha Sound in Georgia; and Lake Okeechobee.
A storm surge warning was in effect from North Palm Beach to Altamaha Sound in Georgia; and from the mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown.
A hurricane watch was in effect for Hallandale Beach to the Volusia/Brevard county line; Lake Okeechobee; and the Flagler/ Volusia county line to Ponte Vedra Beach.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for south of Hallandale Beach to north of Ocean Reef; and north of Bonita Beach to the Ochlockonee River.
A storm surge watch was in effect for south of North Palm Beach to Hallandale Beach; Altamaha Sound in Georgia to Savannah River in Georgia; the Anclote River to the Suwannee River.
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