|Hurricane Nicole coverage: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Damage assessment, Part I | Damage assessment, Part II | A1A Reopens|
Last Updated: 8:30 a.m.
The 500-mile-wide Nicole made landfall as a hurricane near Vero Beach–more precisely at North Hutchinson Island–around 3 a.m. Thursday. It soon degraded into a tropical storm again while battering Florida’s east coast with damaging waves and swathing much of Florida–from Fort Myers to Jacksonville, including all of Flagler County–in bands of heavy rain and occasional tropical storm-force winds in many places.
The storm was inflicting grave damage on different segments of State Road A1A in Flagler Beach and south of the city limits into Volusia County. The southern end of the road was likely to be closed to traffic today, with the worst of the surge still ahead, in the 9 o’clock hour.
“The likelihood of A1A at the bottom of our county, near Volusia, around the water tower, that will most likely have to be closed,” Jonathan Lord, Flagler County’s emergency management director, said this morning. “The ocean has already chipped away at that and it’s starting to expose a bit of underneath the roadway. So that will be the northbound side, and we have the worst high tides coming at 9 o’clock, so the worst of the worst high tide for this storm will be nine o’clock-ish today. I can’t picture a scenario where they can leave that southern part of the road open until FDOT does some repairs.” FDOT is the Florida Department of Transportation.
One weather spotter’s station in South Flagler Beach recorded sustained winds of 40 miles per hour at 5:10 this morning as waves crashed over the Flagler Beach pier and pounded the shore, washing over A1A in parts, as high tide was approaching. But for a very small section, the pier itself appeared to have survived the night without losing too many more limbs. But by 9 a.m., that was no longer the case: an eastern segment was slouching toward the depths.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for inland Flagler, a tornado watch was in effect until 1 p.m. today, and a flood watch in effect until 7 p.m. The forecast for Palm Coast-Flagler was for tropical storm conditions, with east winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts up to 65 mph.
The message to Flagler and surrounding areas from the National Weather Service in Jacksonville this morning: “Hunker down today and this evening as event unfolds.” The service confirmed that tropical-storm force winds were occurring along the coast and would continue to occur during the day. Peak storm surge of 3 to 5 feet along the coast was expected today between 9 and 10 a.m. “Extremely hazardous coastal conditions continue through Friday,” the service cautions, with “devastating beach erosion, damaging surf and frequent rip currents.”
Despite the tropical-storm conditions, only 40 customers were without power in all of Flagler County at daybreak, compared to 26,000 without power in Volusia County, 23,000 in Orange, 86,000 in Brevard and 17,000 in Indian River. In all of Florida, 215,000 customers had lost power by dawn, out of 11.1 million, a much lower proportion than feared and a fraction of the power losses as Hurricane Ian struck the state. But the numbers were trending up this morning.
Though Nicole was making its way inland, moving west northwest at a relatively brisk at 14 miles per hour, it was still a dangerous storm with 70 miles per hour winds even as it was expected to weaken. The National Hurricane Center projected the center of the storm to move across central Florida this morning, grazing the western edge of the state then moving across the eastern part of th Panhandle and into Georgia by Friday.
“A dangerous storm surge is expected along portions of the east-central and northeastern coast of Florida, portions of coastal Georgia, and the Florida Big Bend along the Gulf coast. The storm surge will be accompanied by large and damaging waves along the Atlantic coast,” the Hurricane Center said this morning. Nicole will produce heavy rainfall today across the Florida Peninsula. Flash and urban flooding will be possible across portions of the Florida Peninsula along with renewed river flooding on the St. Johns River.
“I don’t see a lot of debris. The roads have been clear,” Rick Belhumeur, the former Flagler Beach city commissioner, said while driving from Marineland back to the center of Flagler Beach at dawn today. It was windy and rainy, and the road was prone to wash-overs at the north end, but otherwise drivable, though he did not encounter but one other car the whole way north from Flagler Beach to Marineland. In Flagler Beach proper, he said some homes on South Flagler Avenue already had intrusion from tidal flooding.
Lord, the emergency management director, said there had not been widespread reports of flooding, but that the tidal surges of concern were still ahead along the Intracoastal.
“As we get into the afternoon, we’ll reassess and may adjust our messaging,” Lord said this morning before 8, “but I don’t want to do that until we know the winds are down below tropical storm force levels. That’s really about the coast. If you’re in Palm Coast now, you’ll have bands where it gets really, really breezy up into the maybe 30 mile an hour range. It’s happened a couple of times already. But then right now I’m here by the EOC, it’s almost still. But then it’ll get windy again. I’m probably the first to admit the folks in that interior part of the county where we didn’t evacuate are probably safe to go about their business. Just be cautious, treat it as if you’re driving through a bad thunderstorm or dealing with a bad thunderstorm. And then it’ll pass, it’ll get better and then you’ll get another band that comes through and other bad storm. That’s why we didn’t evacuate larger areas of the county.”
The county opened one emergency shelter on Wednesday afternoon, at Rymfire Elementary school in Palm Coast. As of 6:30 this morning, it had 53 evacuees and some care-givers.
Lord said there are two more tidal cycles residents should be cautious about, tonight and Friday morning, with damaging wave heights and potentials for flooding. “We will be out of the woods with the wind quickly as we approach the end of the day today,” Lord said. “But when it comes to the tide cycles, the next two high tide cycles after this one still have a significant potential to cause further damage.”