Tropical Storm Nicole reached hurricane strength on Wednesday when it made landfall on Grand Bahama Island en route to the Atlantic coast of Florida and the southeastern United States.
It is expected to make landfall in Florida early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said in a 1 a.m. update.
By 2 a.m., the storm was about 15 miles east of Fort Pierce, Florida, and moving northwest at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, according to the hurricane center.
The storm is expected to track into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. Heavy rain is expected in the region.
Florida, where evacuations had been ordered, is expecting storm surge that could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September.
President Joe Biden has approved federal emergency aid for 45 counties, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Broward, Flagler and Seminole.
Nicole is the third Atlantic hurricane this month, tying the 2001 season for the most Atlantic hurricanes in November, according Phil Klotzbach, atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University.
When it made landfall Wednesday night on Grand Bahama Island, Nicole had peak winds of 75 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane.
Flights at several airports were canceled before the storm arrived. Palm Beach International Airport halted all flights Wednesday morning, while Orlando International Airport said it closed all business operations at 4 p.m. In Daytona Beach, the airport closed at 12:30 p.m. and plans to reopen Friday morning.
Meanwhile, airports in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville remain open, but have warned travelers to check with their airlines for possible flight delays or cancellations.
More than 500 members of the Florida National Guard have been activated to assist with response efforts.
“These forces are actively preparing across the state but will remain flexible to reposition as necessary to ensure a rapid response,” the agency said. “Our forces are ready to conduct a variety of missions to include bridge entry checkpoints, traffic checkpoints, search and rescue, security and the installation of Tiger Dam systems.”
In anticipation of the storm, the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks were to have a “phased closure” beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will remain closed through Thursday morning. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs Resort are also required to leave, the park said, saying it would help people find alternative accommodations.
The hurricane center warned the entire state to prepare for severe weather.
“Do not focus on Nicole’s exact track as it is expected to be a large storm with hazards extending well north of center outside the forecast cone” , he said in a bulletin of “key messages”.
“These risks will likely affect much of the Florida peninsula and parts of the southeastern United States,” he said.
Hurricane warnings were in effect overnight for a wide swath of the state’s east coast — from Boca Raton, north of Miami, to the Flagler County line, north of Daytona Beach — said forecasters.
In an update Wednesday, Flagler County Emergency Management said evacuation orders for barrier islands takes effect at 3:30 p.m.
Other warnings urged residents to prepare and evacuate if necessary as life-threatening conditions were on the way, including hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or more, storm surges and coastal flooding.
“Preparations to protect life and property must be completed,” the hurricane center said in a late-night public advisory.
A storm surge warning, which predicts dangerously high ocean waters, wetlands and rivers, was in effect from North Palm Beach, Florida to Altamaha Sound, Georgia, he said.
Forecasters said central and northern Florida could expect 3 to 5 inches of rain, with 8 inches possible.
Storm surges will likely affect a long stretch of coastline from Florida’s east coast to the southeastern United States, the hurricane center said.
“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip conditions,” he said.
Minyvonne Burke and The Associated Press contributed.
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