MIAMI — Tropical Storm Nicole, on the cusp of strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane possibly within hours, made landfall in the Bahamas Wednesday morning and remained on track to slam much of Florida with pounding surf, high winds and heavy rain.
Forecasters said a second landfall was expected in the overnight hours near the Palm Beach-Martin County border, though that could still change. Regardless of where the center crosses the state, the sprawling storm’s wind field continued to grow overnight high winds and heavy rains will be felt hundreds of miles away — with the worst conditions likely on its northern side.
By 9 a.m., Lake Worth Pier was already reporting sustained tropical storm-force winds of 44 mph, hours before the center of Nicole is due ashore. Flooding could be seen from Miami north, as storm surge splashed across the Hollywood Broadwalk, overtopped seawalls in Sewalls Point and soaked streets in Palm Beach. Several thousand customers were already without power by mid-morning.
“The impacts from Nicole are starting right now,” said Michael Brennan, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, in a Wednesday morning broadcast.
The National Hurricane Center zeroed in on the potential danger zone for Nicole Wednesday afternoon, lifting the tropical storm watch for Miami-Dade County as it became more clear the bigger impacts would be felt to the north.
Many coastal and inland counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, had already ordered school closures for Wednesday.
With storm surge and beach erosion the biggest threat, mandatory or voluntary evacuations also had been called for tens of thousands of along the coast, from Palm Beach north to Volusia County. Theme parks are closed, drawbridges are locked and Orlando’s International Airport plans to shut down later in the day as the storm draws near.
While Nicole is likely to prove damaging and spark widespread power outages, forecasters aren’t expecting it to get much stronger before it sweeps across the peninsula. It is set to cross some warm ocean waters as it moves through the northern Bahamas but forecasters said wind shear and other less friendly conditions will likely keep the storm in check and near Category 1 status.
Still, Florida faces tropical storm-force winds that will reach much of the state, several inches of soaking rain and coastal flooding for most of the coast from multiple feet of storm surge — an elevated threat for counties like Brevard and Volusia that already lost protective beach sand from Hurricane Ian.
That threat became reality early Wednesday, as at least one beachfront pool deck of a Daytona Beach Shores condominium was swallowed by the sea and officials closed multiple oceanfront roads in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart.