MIAMI — Tropical Storm Nicole continued strengthening on Tuesday as Florida’s east coast prepares for a possible tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane later this week.
Overnight, the National Hurricane Center nudged its predicted track north toward Melbourne, moving Miami-Dade and Broward out of the cone of uncertainty, but Nicole’s wind field is already nearly the size of the entire state, so its effects will be felt throughout Florida starting as early as Wednesday.
Hurricane watches on Florida’s east coast were upgraded to warnings on Tuesday for most of the coast, except Broward and Miami-Dade, which remained under a hurricane watch and tropical storm watch, respectively.
In addition to the hurricane watches already issued along Florida’s east coast, the hurricane center early Tuesday upgraded the east coast’s tropical storm and hurricane watches to warnings and issued a tropical storm watch for portions of the state’s western coast.
Tuesday afternoon, Palm Beach County announced mandatory evacuations for more than 100,000 residents, with shelters opening Wednesday morning. Brevard County announced voluntary evacuations for the most vulnerable areas and Volusia County also issued a mandatory evacuation.
Palm Beach County will close schools Wednesday and Thursday, and other east-central Florida counties may follow suit. Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said schools will go on as normal unless winds reach tropical storm force, which would force the buses to stop running.
Drawbridges in Miami-Dade County are being locked down to marine traffic. Locked bridges include those over the Intracoastal and the Miami River.
Florida Power and Light CEO Eric Silagy said that the utility is preparing for “widespread outages stretching over multiple days,” especially in areas already hit by Hurricane Ian in late September.
“Ian saturated soil and weakened trees in many parts of the state, so Nicole could cause trees to topple over and other vegetation and debris to blow into overhead power lines and equipment, which may cause outages,” he said in a statement.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center placed Tropical Storm Nicole 285 miles northeast of the northwestern Bahamas and about 395 miles east of West Palm Beach. The storm, with sustained winds of 65 mph, was traveling west at 10 mph.