Shortly after Hurricane Nicole made landfall along the east coast of Florida on Thursday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. The storm was battering a large area of the storm-weary state with strong winds, a dangerous storm surge and heavy rain, officials said.
The rare November hurricane had already led officials to shut down airports and theme parks and order evacuations that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September. The sprawling storm is forecast to head into Georgia and the Carolinas later on Thursday and Friday, dumping heavy rain across the region.
Nicole had maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 kilometres per hour) early on Thursday, the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm was about 60 miles (95km) southeast of Orlando. It was moving west-northwest near 14mph (22km/h).
Tropical storm force winds extended as far as 485 miles (780km) from the centre in some directions. Nicole’s centre is expected to move across central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday and into the evening, and into the Carolinas on Friday.
A few tornadoes will be possible through early Thursday across east-central to northeast Florida, the weather service said. Flash and urban flooding will be possible, along with renewed river rises on the St Johns River, across the Florida Peninsula on Thursday.
Heavy rainfall from this system will spread northward across portions of the southeast, eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic and New England through Saturday.
Large swells generated by Nicole will affect the northwestern Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the southeastern US coast over the next few days.
Additional weakening is forecast while Nicole moves over land during the next day or two, and the storm is likely to become a tropical depression over Georgia on Thursday night or early Friday.
Nicole became a hurricane on Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama island, having made landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco island as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70mph. It is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
For storm-weary Floridians, it is only the third November hurricane to hit their shores since record keeping began in 1853. The previous ones were the 1935 Yankee Hurricane and Hurricane Kate in 1985.