Hurricane warnings for Florida as Tropical Storm Nicole intensifies
Tropical Storm Nicole, currently spinning northeast of the Bahamas, is intensifying and is forecast to strike Florida as a hurricane late Wednesday.
Why it matters: The storm's large size, combined with an area of high pressure to its north, is likely to make it a far-reaching, high-impact event with damaging coastal flooding, dangerous winds and heavy rainfall across a broad region.
Driving the news: Nicole was near hurricane strength some 290 miles east of West Palm Beach as of 1am ET Wednesday. It was moving west-southwest at 11 mph with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
- Tropical storm conditions were beginning to spread across the northwestern Bahamas and portions of the east coast of Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in an update just before 1am ET.
- President Biden approved Florida's emergency declaration, ordering federal assistance "to supplement State, tribal, and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from Tropical Storm Nicole," the White House said in an emailed statement early Wednesday.
Threat level: Since it's evolving from a hybrid system into a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane, Nicole has a large wind field, which will come into play with the storm's impacts in Florida and further up the southeastern coast.
- Nicole is forecast to become a Category 1 hurricane as it traverses the northwest Bahamas and remain one at landfall on the east coast of Florida, somewhere between West Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral overnight Wednesday and into Thursday.
Yes, but: The landfall location is less important in the case of this storm, since its winds and coastal flooding will reach all the way to the coast of Georgia, bringing high surf, beach erosion, storm surge flooding, damaging winds and heavy rains.
- If Nicole comes ashore as a hurricane, it would be the latest such storm to strike Florida and among only a handful of storms to hit the U.S. this late in the season, according to Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist and storm surge expert at WPLG-TV in Miami.
Zoom in: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency in 34 counties "in an abundance of caution" to allow residents to prepare necessary resources in the event the storm gains strength.
- Mandatory evacuations have been issued for parts of Palm Beach and Volusia counties due to the storm surge flood threat. Voluntary evacuations are taking place in other counties.
- NASA is leaving its Artemis I rocket on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral to ride out the storm, but has postponed its Nov.14 launch attempt to Nov. 16.
- The massive rocket was designed to withstand winds up to 85 mph on the pad, NASA said in a statement. "Current forecasts predict the greatest risks at the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design," the agency said.
- Orlando International Airport has announced plans to close at 4pm ET on Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning from Boca Raton to the Flagler-Volusia county line.
- A storm surge warning is also in effect from North Palm Beach, Florida to Altamaha Sound in Georgia, as well as from the mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown, Florida. Tropical storm and storm surge watches have been extended northward into portions of South Carolina, while much of central Florida is under tropical storm warnings.
- The NHC stated that hurricane conditions are possible in southeast to east-central Florida beginning late Wednesday or Wednesday night, while tropical storm conditions can be expected beginning Wednesday morning across a larger area of Florida and Georgia.
- "A dangerous storm surge is expected along much of the east coast of Florida and portions of coastal Georgia where a Storm Surge Warning is in effect," the NHC stated in a forecast discussion. "The storm surge will be accompanied by large and damaging waves."
Between the lines: NHC forecasters are cautioning against focusing on Nicole's exact track, stating the storm "is expected to be a large storm with hazards extending well to the north of the center, and outside of the cone, and affect much of the Florida peninsula and portions of the southeast U.S."
- Much of Florida, particularly areas along the east coast, will be threatened with urban and river flooding from the storm as well, given that it will be moving slowly across the state and then turning north towards the southeastern coast.
- Some areas that may see inland flooding, such as along the St. Johns River, are just beginning to recover from Hurricane Ian. This river is likely to rise significantly once again, potentially causing major flooding.
Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout with new details about the storm's intensity and movement, along with NASA's Artemis I mission postponement.