MIAMI — After nearly three days of high winds and tides, Florida’s late-season brush with Nicole — first as a hurricane and then as a tropical storm — left dozens of counties with downed trees and power lines, flooded buildings, broken piers, scoured roads and at least a handful of homes partially washed away.
As a Category 1 storm at its strongest, Nicole did not exactly break records for wind ferocity or storm surge height, but it came on the heels of devastating Category 4 Hurricane Ian a mere six weeks earlier.
The one-two punch, on already eroded beaches and swollen rivers, made a mild storm all the more devastating. The hardest hit spots were along the coast of east Central Florida, where Nicole’s waves stripped pool decks from condos and laid bare the concrete sheet pilings holding up oceanfront hotels.
It also left at least two dead, a man and woman in Orange County electrocuted by a downed power line.
For the second time this hurricane season, South Florida escaped the worst effects of a landfalling storm. By Thursday midmorning, tides were down, the sun was out and all watches and warnings has been lifted. Miami-Dade planned to reopen schools Thursday, while dozens of other districts across the state remained closed.
“Impacts have been basically what’s been expected,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee. “You do have downed trees, you have power lines, you have some road washouts, combined winds and storm surge.”
More than 50 counties were under a tropical storm warning Thursday morning, a number that is expected to drop as Nicole moves across the state. Roughly 330,000 homes and businesses were without power Thursday morning, DeSantis said.
“This is obviously not as significant a storm as Hurricane Ian was,” he said.
But some communities, particularly in Volusia County, were still dealing with flooding and beach erosion, which has put some buildings along the coast “in jeopardy,” DeSantis said.
Though South Florida was largely spared, its northern coastal neighbors weren’t as fortunate. Multiple homes crumbled into the ocean in Daytona Beach Shores in Volusia County, victims of a one-two punch of erosion from September’s Hurricane Ian and Nicole’s harsh storm surge.
Volusia, like others along the coast, including Palm Beach, called for mandatory evacuations ahead of the story. But the devastating erosion prompted officials to go door to door evacuating remaining residents from dozens of homes, condominiums and at least one hotel over concerns they weren’t structurally sound.
By midafternoon, 150,000 customers were already without power across Florida — many of them on Florida’s Space Coast, which had endured more than a day of battering winds and waves. Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center and on the storm’s stronger “dirty side,” had most of the outages, with nearly 77,000 customers in the dark, according to Florida Power & Light’s Power Tracker.
The Kennedy Space Center recorded a 100-mph gust after Nicole’s landfall, causing concerns that the $4 billion Artemis rocket sitting on its pad might be damaged. NASA said Wednesday evening that the spacecraft could withstand winds up to 85 mph high, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Nicole’s winds also uncovered the remains of six bodies on Hutchinson Island, where it initially made landfall, from what Martin County Sheriff’s deputies suspect was a Native American burial ground.
Parts of state road A1A in Flagler County had “significant damage,” the county’s emergency management department reported. And Thursday morning’s high tide in St. Augustine was already a foot higher than Ian, swamped parts of the city.
Nicole’s tides set a new record in Jacksonville — at 3.58 feet above high tide — as the highest tides since 1928, beating out the 3.21 foot record Hurricane Matthew set in 2016, tweeted Jeff Masters, a former NOAA hurricane hunter.
So far, damage reports are minimal for South Florida. The Deerfield Beach fishing pier lost some chunks of its railing to Nicole’s winds, and a middle portion of Anglin’s Fishing Pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea was swept out to sea.
Some beachfront businesses, including along Hollywood Beach’s Boardwalk, saw minor flooding, but many were already back open for businesses Thursday morning.
Early Thursday, the National Weather Service’s Miami office said South Florida saw up to 6 inches of Nicole’s rains in Fort Lauderdale, with totals around 3 inches in Miami and West Palm Beach.
Nicole’s rain and storm surge combined with the higher than usual King Tide this week to set a record at the Virginia Key tide gauge, the fourth highest water level since 1994, tweeted Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel school.
Nicole now ranks just under record tides set by Irma, Wilma and Irene.
With its early Thursday landfall, then-Hurricane Nicole set new records. It was only the second November hurricane to strike Florida’s peninsula in recorded history, after Hurricane Kate hit the panhandle as a Category 2 on Nov. 4, 1985.
Andy Hazleton, a researcher at the University of Miami and NOAA’s hurricane research department, tweeted that it was the first hurricane to officially make landfall on Florida’s east coast since Katrina hit in 2005.
“Not something you really expect in mid-November!” he tweeted.
The storm’s path — and timing after Hurricane Ian — drew comparisons to 2004’s Hurricane Charley and Jeanne, which also hit 43 days apart and took similar tracks through the state.
“This is crazy. Florida hurricane déjà vu,” tweeted Matt Devitt, chief meteorologist of Southwest Florida’s WINK news.
In a 3 a.m. Eastern time advisory, the National Hurricane Center put Nicole’s official landfall on North Hutchinson Island. It immediately weakened to a tropical storm, and by 1 p.m. its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 45 mph as it swept inland with its center about 45 miles northeast of Tampa.
Nicole was expected to spend much of the day crossing the state on a path that will take it up the Big Bend toward Tallahassee — possibly emerging into the Gulf of Mexico on the way.
Hurricane Nicole made its first landfall in the northeastern Bahamas on Wednesday afternoon, in nearly the same spot Hurricane Dorian ravaged in 2019, and another landfall Wednesday night as it swept across Grand Bahama Island. There were no early reports of major damage but reports of “extensive flooding” on the island of Abaco.
Bahamian officials gave the “all-clear” just after 5 a.m.
(Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.)©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.