South Florida races to prepare for Tropical Storm Nicole as it threatens to become a hurricane
South Florida raced to prepare for a second hurricane in just six weeks on Thursday — this time the bull’s eye is in the Atlantic coast.
Streets from Hollywood to West Palm Beach were already flooding Wednesday morning as a king tide coincided with Tropical Storm Nicole’s westward march from the Bahamas. National Hurricane Center forecasters predict that Nicole will become a Category 1 by late Wednesday. Winds are to be at least 74 mph.
The storm is expected to make landfall between Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast late Wednesday or early Thursday, NHC Deputy Director Mike Brennan said Wednesday morning. But he warned that dangerous storm surge driven by far-reaching winds could spread up and down the coast.
“We're very concerned about storm surge with Nicole with that large wind field,” he said. “We're already seeing storm surge flooding along much of the Florida east coast. That's going to only get worse as we go through the day and into tonight.”
In advance of the storm, airports also began shutting down. Palm Beach County International airport closed at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Orlando International, Daytona Beach International and Melbourne International also closed later in the day.
Forecasters have warned that much of the state’s Atlantic coast, from Palm Beach County to the Georgia border, could see water levels rise between three and five feet. As the storm tracks across the state Thursday, surge will swell on the opposite coast along the Big Bend, increasing water levels to three to five feet above ground.
“A lot of water is going to be moved around,” Brennan warned.
To prepare for the hurricane, South Florida water managers have been working on lowering canal levels and bringing down flood waters after Hurricane Ian hit the Gulf Coast on Step. 28. Rain from Ian triggered widespread flooding in areas north of Lake Okeechobee. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued executive orders to the district this week authorizing emergency flood control. On Tuesday, the water management district began moving heavy equipment and portable pumps to areas where flooding could be severe, executive director Drew Bartlett said.
“We certainly expect hurricane-force winds and significant rainfall,” he said.
With potential hurricane-strength winds expected across Palm Beach County east of I-95, Florida Power & Light warned that already saturated ground could cause more trees to topple.
“So I expect there'll be a lot of trees even outside of our normal right of ways that will fall into the lines and cause outages,” said FPL CEO Eric Silagy.
Over the weekend, FPL began organizing 13,000 workers to respond including drones and drone pilots working to pinpoint damage.
FPL didn’t estimate the number of expected outages, Silagy said. But with winds extending up to 450 miles from the storm’s center, the number could be high. Workers will begin repairs once wind speeds drop below 35 mph, he said.