The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch for Florida’s east coast from the Brevard-Volusia county line south to Hallandale Beach as Subtropical Storm Nicole formed Monday morning in the Atlantic Ocean with a projected path predicted to bring it toward the state by Wednesday night as hurricane.
As of 10 a.m. EST (11 a.m. AST), the system was located about 495 miles east of the northwestern Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph moving northwest at 9 mph. It’s expected to slow down its forward speed later Monday and begin a west to west-southwest push from Tuesday to Thursday.
“On the forecast track, the center of Nicole will approach the northwestern Bahamas on Tuesday, move near or over those islands on Wednesday, and approach the east coast of Florida by Wednesday night.,” said the NHC advisory.
The hurricane watch also was issued for Lake Okeechobee inland with a tropical storm watch from the Brevard-Volusia county line north to Altamaha Sound, Georgia. A storm surge watch is also in effect for Altamaha Sound, Georgia south to Hallandale Beach, Florida. The government of the Bahamas has also placed the northwestern Bahamas under a hurricane watch.
While classified now as subtropical with a massive wind field with 40 mph winds out as far as 275 miles, the forecast predicts it will transition to a tropical system with a more defined eye with higher wind speeds around the eye at the center of its circulation.
The latest advisory predicts it will become a hurricane while over the Bahamas on Wednesday night on its way to Florida with 75 mph winds and gusts up to 90 mph.
“Regardless on the ultimate intensity of Nicole, the storm’s large size due to an enhanced pressure gradient north of the storm 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 five-day forecast shows a path that could have it making landfall somewhere between Miami and Brevard County, and then traveling northwest across the state south of Orlando and out into the Gulf of Mexico north of Tampa Bay on Thursday, then shifting Friday and getting pulled back to the northeast up into the southern U.S.
The NHC defines a subtropical cyclone as similar to a tropical system, meaning a low-pressure system with a closed surface wind circulation about a well-defined center with some deep convection. But its winds will be spread out much farther with less symmetry than the dense centers of a tropical storm, and will have cooler upper-level temperatures in its core. Tropical systems gain much of their energy from warm waters that are sucked up through the center into the atmosphere while subtropical systems get most of their energy from “baroclinic” sources, meaning they mix with a neighboring high or low pressure system and trade off temperature and pressure in an attempt to equalize.
Since it has yet to become a tropical system, its path and intensity are less predictable, according to the NHC, and the five-day cone stretches from south of Miami all the way up to it not even making landfall, but off the coast of Daytona Beach before it gets pulled back to the northeast.
“There are still several scenarios that could play out with the track of this system. It could move inland across portions of the Florida peninsula,” said Michael Brennan, the NHC’s acting deputy director as the system was still forming on Sunday. “It could turn northward near or along the east coast of Florida, or it could remain just offshore and move more toward the Georgia and Carolina coasts. As we get through the next several days, that will come into better focus, but again as this system is still developing, the uncertainty and the exact details of how it’s going to move and evolve are going to be relatively high.”
No matter the path, its reach could bring the risk of dangerous storm surge, damaging winds, and heavy rainfall.
“We could see the potential for higher-end impacts, dangerous storm surge, potential for winds, strong tropical-storm-force damaging winds … even up to hurricane-force potentially if this system does go on and become a hurricane, and again heavy rainfall that could track with or near the core of that storm if it goes on and develops those tropical characteristics,” Brennan said.
For now, the Bahamas could see as much as 3 to 5 feet above normal storm surge while also experiencing 2 to 4 inches of rain with some areas seeing up to 6 inches through Thursday.
The NHC said Florida’s coast from North Palm Beach north into Georgia including the St. Johns River could see 3 to 5 feet of storm surge, with 2 tp 4 feet south of North Palm down to Hallandale Beach.
Florida’s massive swath of damage from September’s Hurricane Ian left much of central part of the state flooded from Ian’s heavy rains including around the St. Johns River. More rain dumped from this system could stress water tables that are still coming down since the hurricane, and could lead to more flooding, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
“Dangerous marine conditions will continue to worsen as winds work to build seas through the day today,” the NWS stated in its Monday morning forecast discussion. “These winds and building seas will make beach conditions hazardous, creating choppy surf, life threatening rip currents, and providing a growing concern for beach erosion later today and tonight.”
Peak winds in east Central Florida are expected to begin Wednesday night and continue into Thursday.
“Squalls ahead of and during the storm`s passage could produce wind gusts in excess of 50-60 mph across coastal communities, with up to around 35-50 mph well inland,” the forecast said. “In addition, storm total rainfall accumulations are expected to reach 4-6 inches along the coast and even reaching the St Johns River in Brevard County, 3-4 inches for much of the rest of the area, and 2-3 inches for northern Lake County and areas west of Florida’s Turnpike, with locally higher amounts possible.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis said state emergency officials are in contact will all 67 of the state’s counties to identify potential resource gaps and enact plans for the state to respond quickly and efficiently to the system.
“I encourage all Floridians to be prepared and make a plan in the event a storm impacts Florida,” he said in a press release.
The release reminded Floridians “to know if they live in an evacuation zone, a low-lying, flood-prone area, a mobile home or an unsafe structure during hurricane season. It is also very important for residents to know their home and its ability to withstand strong winds and heavy rain.”
One of the counties with severe beachfront damage from Ian was Volusia, and Emergency Director Jim Judge said the winds from the system’s north and east quadrants are a particular threat again.
“We need to take this storm very seriously because it could cause more coastal erosion, which could be devastating to our beachfront properties impacted by Hurricane Ian,” he said. “We’re also looking at rainfall amounts anywhere from of 4 to 8 inches through Friday that could cause flooding, along with tropical-storm-force winds that could cause widespread power outages.”
The NHC will issue its next intermediate advisory at 1 p.m. EST with the next updated path prediction at 4 p.m. EST.
Nicole becomes the 14th named system of the 2022 hurricane season, which continues the stretch of above-average storm production in recent years. 2020 saw a record 30 named storms while 2021 produced 21 named systems.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.