Tropical Storm Nicole neared Category 1 hurricane strength Tuesday night and will stay a hurricane when it's expected to approach the east coast of Florida as early as Wednesday, forecasters said.
Nicole had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and was moving west-southwest at 10 mph about 325 miles east of West Palm Beach, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Boca Raton to the Flagler/Volusia County line, while a hurricane watch was issued for the east coast of Florida from Boca Raton to Hallandale Beach and from the Flagler/Volusia County line to Ponta Vedra Beach, along with Lake Okeechobee.
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Nicole is expected to strengthen into a hurricane very soon. Forecast tracks showed Nicole heading toward the Bahamas overnight Wednesday and approaching the east coast of Florida Wednesday or Thursday. Miami-Dade and Broward are out of the storm's "cone of concern."
A tropical storm warning was in effect from Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton, the Flagler/Volusia County line to Altamaha Sound, Georgia and Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm watch was in effect for south of Hallandale Beach to north of Ocean Reef and north of Bonita Beach to the Ochlockonee River.
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Nicole was expected to bring storm surges between two and four feet across South Florida.
Broward and Miami-Dade County Public Schools are closing Wednesday due to the storm.
On Monday, the South Florida Water Management District started lowering the water in canals in preparation.
“We are in that process as we speak because it’s important to do that ahead of the storm," said Randy Smith, spokesperson for South Florida Water Management District. "You don’t have time if the storm is on top of you.”
A storm surge warning was in effect for North Palm Beach to Altamaha Sound and from the mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown, Florida. A storm surge watch is in effect from North Palm Beach to Hallandale Beach.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency for 34 counties in the potential path of Nicole, including Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.
“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 statement. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves towards Florida.”
The center of Nicole was expected to approach the northwestern Bahamas on Tuesday, move near or over those islands on Wednesday, and approach the east coast of Florida by Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Gradual strengthening is forecast during the next few days, and Nicole is forecast to be at hurricane intensity by Wednesday while it is moving near or over the northwestern Bahamas, the hurricane center said.
A hurricane warning was also in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini, and Grand Bahama Island. A tropical storm warning was issued for Andros Island, New Providence, and Eleuthera
“It’s not out of the question for Nicole to reach hurricane strength, especially given how warm the waters are in the vicinity of the Bahamas," the NHC said. “It should be stressed, however, that no matter Nicole’s ultimate intensity, the storm’s large size will likely cause significant wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts over a large portion of the northwestern Bahamas, Florida, and the southeastern coast of the United States during much of the upcoming week."
The system is expected to move to the west and potentially bring coastal flooding, tropical storm force winds and heavy rainfall for areas from South Florida to the border of Georgia and South Carolina starting Wednesday night. As much as seven inches of rain could fall in Florida.
Large parts of Florida are still reeling from destructive Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the southwestern portion of the state in September 28 as a strong Category 4 hurricane and dumped massive amounts of rain, causing flooding across central Florida.
Nicole is the 14th named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which has already seen seven hurricanes.
The total number of hurricanes expected remains unchanged at six to ten, but the number of major hurricanes is now expected to be three to five, instead of the earlier prediction of three to six, NOAA said.
NOAA's averages for the Atlantic hurricane season are 14 named storms and seven hurricanes. The average for major hurricanes is three.
The hurricane season officially ends on November 30.