Florida’s east coast – from the Brevard-Volusia county line south to Hallandale Beach – was placed under a hurricane watch on Monday, with the National Hurricane Center warning that Subtropical Storm Nicole could make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane late Wednesday or early Thursday.
In its 10 p.m. EST update, the hurricane center said Subtropical Storm Nicole was located about 415 miles east-northeast of the northwestern Bahamas and moving northwest at 8 mph. Its maximum-sustained winds were 45 mph with higher gusts.
“A turn toward the west or west-southwest is forecast to begin on Tuesday, and that motion should continue through early Thursday,” the NHC said. “On the forecast track, the center of Nicole will approach the northwestern Bahamas on Tuesday and Tuesday night, move near or over those islands on Wednesday, and approach the east coast of Florida Wednesday night.
“Nicole is forecast to be at or near hurricane intensity by Wednesday or Wednesday night while it is moving near or over the northwestern Bahamas.”
In addition to the previously issued hurricane watch, at 10 p.m. the NHC also announced a tropical storm warning from Hallandale Beach northward along the Florida east coast to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.
While Nicole is forecast to reach hurricane strength in the next 48 hours, the hurricane center at 10 p.m. noted that there is an usual amount of uncertainty in the storm’s intensity forecast.
“Nicole’s sprawling structure and nearby dry mid-level air suggest that it will take some time for the cyclone to begin strengthening,” forecasters said. “It is expected, however, that the system will at least begin to acquire an inner core structure within 24 hours and be near or at hurricane intensity by the time it reaches the northwest Bahamas and the Florida peninsula.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a State of Emergency for 34 counties in the storm’s potential path, including all of Central Florida.
“While this storm does not, at this time, appear that it will become much stronger, I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials,” DeSantis said in a press release. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves toward Florida.”
Counties in the order are Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, DeSoto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter and Volusia.
The National Weather Service in Melbourne also placed inland Brevard County under a hurricane watch; Inland Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, Lake, Polk, Sumter and Marion counties are under a tropical storm watch.
“… Regardless of final track or intensity, [Nicole’s] impacts are expected across east Central Florida,” the NWS Melbourne office said in its weather discussion. “Preparations need to be completed prior to Wednesday, as conditions will rapidly deteriorate into Wednesday afternoon. Be sure to stay up to date on the latest forecast and any Watches or Warnings. Those still dealing with the devastating impacts from Hurricane Ian are especially encouraged to make preparations and monitor the forecast.”
The five-day forecast shows a path that could have it making landfall somewhere between Miami and Brevard County, and then traveling northwest across the state south of Orlando on Thursday, then shifting Friday while still inland and getting pulled back to the north up through the center of the state and into the southern U.S.
The NHC defines a subtropical cyclone as similar to a tropical system, meaning a low-pressure system with a closed surface wind circulation about a well-defined center with some deep convection. But its winds will be spread out much farther with less symmetry than the dense centers of a tropical storm, and will have cooler upper-level temperatures in its core. Tropical systems gain much of their energy from warm waters that are sucked up through the center into the atmosphere while subtropical systems get most of their energy from “baroclinic” sources, meaning they mix with a neighboring high or low pressure system and trade off temperature and pressure in an attempt to equalize.
Since it has yet to become a tropical system, its path and intensity are less predictable, according to the NHC, but the three-day cone of uncertainty has a landfall range from south of Miami up through Volusia County with landfall potentially just north of West Palm Beach in Martin County.
No matter the path, its reach could bring the risk of dangerous storm surge, damaging winds, and heavy rainfall.
“We could see the potential for higher-end impacts, dangerous storm surge, potential for winds, strong tropical-storm-force damaging winds … even up to hurricane-force potentially if this system does go on and become a hurricane, and again heavy rainfall that could track with or near the core of that storm if it goes on and develops those tropical characteristics,” said Michael Brennan, the NHC’s acting deputy director.
For now, the Bahamas could see as much as 3 to 5 feet above normal storm surge while also experiencing 2 to 4 inches of rain with some areas seeing up to 6 inches through Thursday.
The NHC said Florida’s coast from North Palm Beach north into Georgia including the St. Johns River could see 3 to 5 feet of storm surge, with 2 tp 4 feet south of North Palm down to Hallandale Beach and along the St. Johns down to East Palatka.
Florida’s massive swath of damage from September’s Hurricane Ian left much of central part of the state flooded from Ian’s heavy rains including around the St. Johns River. More rain dumped from this system could stress water tables that are still coming down since the hurricane, and could lead to more flooding, according to the NWS.
“Dangerous marine conditions will continue to worsen as winds work to build seas through the day today,” the NWS stated in its Monday morning forecast discussion. “These winds and building seas will make beach conditions hazardous, creating choppy surf, life threatening rip currents, and providing a growing concern for beach erosion later today and tonight.”
Peak winds in east Central Florida are expected to begin Wednesday night and continue into Thursday, and a threat for tornadoes will likely develop into Wednesday and Wednesday night as the center nears the east coast of Florida, the NWS stated.
“Squalls ahead of and during the storm`s passage could produce wind gusts in excess of 50-60 mph across coastal communities, with up to around 35-50 mph well inland,” the forecast said. “In addition, storm total rainfall accumulations are expected to reach 4-6 inches along the coast and even reaching the St Johns River in Brevard County, 3-4 inches for much of the rest of the area, and 2-3 inches for northern Lake County and areas west of Florida’s Turnpike, with locally higher amounts possible.”
Earlier Monday, DeSantis said state emergency officials are in contact will all 67 of the state’s counties to identify potential resource gaps and enact plans for the state to respond quickly and efficiently to the system.
“I encourage all Floridians to be prepared and make a plan in the event a storm impacts Florida,” he said in a press release.
The release reminded Floridians “to know if they live in an evacuation zone, a low-lying, flood-prone area, a mobile home or an unsafe structure during hurricane season. It is also very important for residents to know their home and its ability to withstand strong winds and heavy rain.”
One of the counties with severe beachfront damage from Ian was Volusia, and Emergency Director Jim Judge said the winds from the system’s north and east quadrants are a particular threat again.
“We need to take this storm very seriously because it could cause more coastal erosion, which could be devastating to our beachfront properties impacted by Hurricane Ian,” he said. “We’re also looking at rainfall amounts anywhere from of 4 to 8 inches through Friday that could cause flooding, along with tropical-storm-force winds that could cause widespread power outages.”
Seminole County emergency officials on Monday also said they are preparing for Nicole to dump several inches of rain this week, particularly in areas where flood waters from Hurricane Ian just recently began to recede.
“No one wants to hear that, but that is what it looks like as of today,” said Alan Harris, director of Seminole’s office of emergency management. “Each forecast has gotten a little worse for us here.”
The St. Johns River is currently rated at a minor flood stage. But rains from Nicole may swell it to moderate flood stage, county officials said, with as much as 7 to 8 inches of rain in some areas of Seminole.
Harris also said the zig-zag path potential is a concern as it moves over the state.
“A double whammy I guess is certainly a possibility,” he said. “We’ve seen this before in Seminole County — 2008. I am not saying this is going to be Tropical Storm Fay, but the track is the exact opposite but very similar where the storm came over us, made a U-Turn, and then came back over us. This is looking to be very similar to that.”
Sentinel staff writer Martin Comas contributed to this report.