Hurricane Nicole made landfall early Thursday along Florida’s east coast just south of Vero Beach, the National Hurricane Center said, before quickly losing punch and downgrading to a tropical storm as it moved over central Florida. . But it still hit a large area of the storm-weary state with strong winds, dangerous storm surges and heavy rains, the center said.
A rare November hurricane has already led officials to close airports and theme parks and order evacuations, including former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches.
And the number of power outages continued to grow: About 363,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without electricity, according to PowerOutage.us.
Nicole had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph Thursday morning and was centered about 30 miles northeast of Tampa and about 60 miles west-southwest of Orlando, according to the hurricane center. It was moving west-northwest at 16 mph.
Tropical storm force winds from the storm extended up to 345 miles from the center in some directions.
Nicole was expected to move west toward the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, shift north and then move across the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia on Thursday night, the hurricane center said. The storm was expected to move across the southeastern United States on Friday.
Mike’s Weather Page tweeted videos of many dramatic scenes, including these:
Nicole became a hurricane Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama Island after making landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco Island as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. It is the first storm to hit the Bahamas sincea Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
For storm-weary Floridians, this is only the third November hurricane to hit their shores since records began in 1853. The previous hurricanes were Yankee Hurricane in 1935 and Hurricane Kate in 1985.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, was in one of the evacuation zones, about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean. The main buildings sit on a hill about 15 feet above sea level, and the property has survived many of the strongest hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked if the club was being evacuated. There were no signs of evacuation by Wednesday afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue teams will not respond if it puts members at risk.
Officials in Daytona Beach Shores have deemed unsafe at least a half-dozen, multi-story, coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian and now threatened by Nicole. In some places, authorities went door-to-door telling people to grab their belongings and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort closed Wednesday but said they intend to reopen Thursday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would suspend operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, is also closed. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport experienced some flight delays and cancellations but both planned to remain open.
At a press conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the winds were the biggest concern and possible power outages, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power and 600 guards and seven search and rescue teams.
Nicole “will affect large parts of the state of Florida throughout the day,” DeSantis said.
Nearly two dozen school districts closed schools for the storm and 15 shelters were opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under a state of emergency.
Warnings and watches have been issued for much of Florida, including the southwest Gulf Coast that was devastated by Hurricane Ian, which hit as a Category 4 storm on September 28. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state – damage many people are still dealing with.
Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based hurricane center, said the storm will affect a large part of Florida.
“Because the system is so big, really almost all of Florida’s east coast except for the extreme southeast and the Keys will get tropical storm force winds,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, President Biden declared an emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts to the approaching storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still responding to those in need of assistance from Hurricane Ian.
Ian brought storm surges of up to 13 feet in late September, causing widespread destruction.