MIAMI — Hurricane Nicole made landfall just south of Vero Beach early Thursday morning with much of its worst damage already done along a Florida coastline battered by high surf and storm surge that undermined pool decks and sent at least a few buildings tumbling into the sea.
Nicole came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds but almost immediately weakened to tropical storm strength as it moved inland. But its massive wind field and bands of powerful thunderstorms extended hundreds of miles to the north, bringing gusts up to 60 mph and drenching rains across much of the upper half of the state — from Tampa to Cocoa Beach.
Conditions quickly improved in its southern wake. By mid-morning, there were no storm watches or warnings for Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach. With the worst of the winds over, Miami-Dade planned to reopen schools Thursday, while dozens of other districts across the state remained closed.
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“Impacts have been basically what’s been expected,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee. “You do have downed trees, you have power lines, you have some road washouts, combined winds and storm surge.”
The storm’s cold outer rain bands could create tornadoes, with the most recent one recorded about 8:30 a.m. in St. Johns County, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. Floridians who receive a weather alert for a tornado should shelter in an interior part of their home, he said.
More than 50 counties were under a tropical storm warning Thursday morning, a number that is expected to drop as Nicole moves across the state. Roughly 330,000 homes and businesses were without power Thursday morning, DeSantis said.
“This is obviously not as significant a storm as Hurricane Ian was,” he said.
But some communities, particularly in Volusia County, were still dealing with flooding and beach erosion, which has put some buildings along the coast “in jeopardy,” DeSantis said.
Sunken homes, broken piers and a rocket at risk
Though South Florida was largely spared, its northern coastal neighbors weren’t as fortunate. Multiple homes crumbled into the ocean in Daytona Beach Shores in Volusia County, victims of a one-two punch of erosion from September’s Hurricane Ian and Nicole’s harsh storm surge.
Volusia, like others along the coast, including Palm Beach, called for mandatory evacuations ahead of the story. But the devastating erosion prompted officials to go door-to-door evacuating remaining residents from dozens of homes, condominiums and at least one hotel over concerns they weren’t structurally sound.
By mid-morning, 150,000 customers were already without power across Florida — many of them on Florida’s Space Coast, which had endured more than a day of battering winds and waves. Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center and on the storm’s stronger “dirty side,” had most of the outages, with nearly 77,000 customers in the dark, according to Florida Power & Light’s Power Tracker.
The Kennedy Space Center recorded a 100 mph gust after Nicole’s landfall, causing concerns that the $4 billion Artemis rocket sitting on its pad might be damaged. NASA said Wednesday evening that the spacecraft could withstand winds up to 85 mph high, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Parts of state road A1A in Flagler County had “significant damage,” the county’s emergency management department reported. And Thursday morning’s high tide in St. Augustine was already a foot higher than Ian, swamped parts of the city.
Nicole’s tides set a new record in Jacksonville — at 3.58 feet above high tide — as the highest tides since 1928, beating out the 3.21 foot record Hurricane Matthew set in 2016, tweeted Jeff Masters, a former NOAA hurricane hunter.
So far, damage reports are minimal for South Florida. The Deerfield Beach fishing pier lost some chunks of its railing to Nicole’s winds, and a middle portion of Anglin’s Fishing Pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea was swept out to sea.
Some beachfront businesses, including along Hollywood Beach’s Broadwalk, saw minor flooding, but many were already back open for businesses Thursday morning.
Early Thursday, the National Weather Service’s Miami office said South Florida saw up to 6 inches of Nicole’s rains in Fort Lauderdale, with totals around 3 inches in Miami and West Palm Beach.
Nicole’s rain and storm surge combined with the higher than usual King Tide this week to set a record at the Virginia Key tide gauge, the fourth highest water level since 1994, tweeted Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel school.
Nicole now ranks just under record tides set by Irma, Wilma and Irene.
A strange storm
With its early Thursday landfall, then-Hurricane Nicole set new records. It was only the second November hurricane to strike Florida’s peninsula in recorded history, after Hurricane Kate hit the panhandle as a Category 2 on Nov. 4, 1985.
Andy Hazleton, a researcher at the University of Miami and NOAA’s hurricane research department, tweeted that it was the first hurricane to officially make landfall on Florida’s east coast since Katrina hit in 2005.
“Not something you really expect in mid-November!” he tweeted.
The storm’s path — and timing after Hurricane Ian — drew comparisons to 2004’s Hurricane Charley and Jeanne, which also hit 43 days apart and took similar tracks through the state.
“This is crazy. Florida hurricane déjà vu,” tweeted Matt Devitt, chief meteorologist of Southwest Florida’s WINK news.
Nicole heads north
In a 3 a.m. EST advisory, the National Hurricane Center put Nicole’s official landfall on North Hutchinson Island. It immediately weakened to a tropical storm, and by 1 p.m. its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 45 mph as it swept inland with its center about 45 miles northeast of Tampa.
Nicole was expected to spend much of the day crossing the state on a path that will take it up the Big Bend toward Tallahassee — possibly emerging into the Gulf of Mexico on the way.
Hurricane Nicole made its first landfall in the northeastern Bahamas Wednesday afternoon, in nearly the same spot Hurricane Dorian ravaged in 2019, and another landfall Wednesday night as it swept across Grand Bahama Island. There were no early reports of major damage but reports of “extensive flooding” on the island of Abaco.
Bahamian officials gave the “all-clear” just after 5 a.m.
(Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.)
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