South Florida Sun Sentinel: By David Fleshler & Angie DiMichele – The forecast track for Tropical Storm Nicole shifted slightly south Tuesday afternoon, as Palm Beach County ordered coastal communities evacuated in preparation for a possible direct hit from a hurricane.

The storm strengthened to 65 mph late Tuesday afternoon and was expected to reach Category 1 hurricane strength by Wednesday, according to the 4 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

Palm Beach County announced an evacuation of coastal neighborhoods and other vulnerable areas Tuesday to prepare for a possible hit from the storm expected to become Hurricane Nicole.

The county ordered the evacuation of zones A and B, which includes barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile home communities, County Mayor Robert Weinroth said at a 2 p.m. news conference. To check your evacuation zone, go to pbcgov.com.

The evacuations, which are effective at 7am Wednesday, apply to about 52,000 residents of mobile homes throughout the county and 67,000 coastal residents, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

“We saw what happened in Lee County,” Weinroth said, referring to the storm surge from Hurricane Ian that drowned coastal residents. “There were people who stayed put because they felt that there was not an emergency, and a lot of those people regretted their decision.”

At Meadowbrooke Mobile Home Park in West Palm Beach, some residents were surprised to hear they were being ordered to evacuate. Some planned to leave, others hadn’t made up their minds.

“It is scary,” said Ashley Flores, 15, whose family had not evacuated in her 10 years there and remained on the fence about leaving. “But we’re just letting it play out however it goes.”

Jessica Mayouin, 21, said she and her three family members who live with her may decide to stay at a relative’s home in the county rather than staying in their manufactured home.

“This is very weak,” she said of their trailer.

Esmeralda Gomez, who lives in the mobile home community with her children and extended family, said she and her family will likely go to a hotel to wait out the storm.

“I feel like it’s safer for the kids,” she said.

A kiteboarder takes advantage of the strong wind and surf on Hollywood Beach as Tropical Storm Nicole continues to move towards the Florida coast on Tuesday.
A kiteboarder takes advantage of the strong wind and surf on Hollywood Beach as Tropical Storm Nicole continues to move towards the Florida coast on Tuesday – Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel

The county announced that several shelters will open Wednesday at 7 a.m. at seven schools: Independence Middle School, Palm Beach Gardens High School, Palm Beach Central High School, Park Vista High School, Lake Shore Middle School, Pahokee Middle-Senior High and Dr. Mary LcLeod Bethune Elementary School. There is a pet-friendly shelter at West Boynton Recreation Center.

Tropical Storm Nicole’s winds strengthened to 60 mph Tuesday afternoon as a broad stretch of the Florida coast braced for a direct hit from a rare November hurricane.

A hurricane warning was issued Tuesday from Palm Beach County through Volusia County. A hurricane warning means winds of 74 mph or greater are expected within 36 hours.

“Anywhere in that area — West Palm Beach, Stuart, Melbourne, up to Daytona Beach — is at risk of hurricane conditions, as we are expecting Nicole to take advantage of this warm water and intensify to a hurricane as it approaches the coast,” said Michael Brennan, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in a Facebook broadcast.

Under the storm’s current track, the highest threat in South Florida is to northeastern Palm Beach County, according to the National Weather Service.

“Damaging hurricane force winds expected in portions of coastal Palm Beach County (east of I-95) Wednesday night/pre-dawn Thursday,” the weather service said. “Damaging tropical storm force winds expected over most of the remainder of Palm Beach County, as well as parts of Broward County mainly near and along the coast.”

Nicole is expected to reach a top wind speed of 75 mph by the time it approaches Florida, putting the storm at Category 1 hurricane strength. The National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory early Tuesday that the forecast track had shifted slightly north.

“Life-threatening” storm surge is possible along the Broward and Palm Beach county coasts, the National Weather Service said Tuesday morning. Storm surge, the wind-driven rise in sea levels that accounted for many of the deaths when Hurricane Ian hit the Gulf coast in September, could reach 2 to 4 feet in South Florida and be “accompanied by “large and destructive waves,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm’s wind field, shown on the hurricane center’s map in dark yellow, is unusually large, which means that wherever Nicole’s center strikes, the entire east coast of Florida is likely to face high winds, heavy rain and storm surge.

“Do not focus on the exact track of Nicole since it is expected to be a large storm with hazards extending well to the north of the center, outside of the forecast cone,” the hurricane center said at 5am Tuesday.

Tropical storm conditions, meaning winds of at least 39 mph, could arrive in Florida early Wednesday, intensifying to hurricane conditions that night.

Governor Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency in 34 Florida counties, including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, on Monday.

“I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves towards Florida.”

Florida Division of Emergency Management officials advise to stock up on a weeks’ worth of non-perishable packaged and canned foods and beverages, one gallon of water per person per day, non-electric can openers, paper and plastic utensils, pet food and supplies, gasoline, first-aid supplies, medications, cell phone chargers, batteries, flashlights and cash and to secure important documents.

Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning.
Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning – Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel

South Florida effects

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, cautioned that the storm will cause power outages as trees and vegetation that were weakened during recent Hurricane Ian get knocked down.

“It is very likely that we will see outages from the storm,” Silagy said.

Florida’s east coast from the Volusia/Brevard County line to Hallandale Beach, Lake Okeechobee and the northwestern Bahamas are under a hurricane watch. The Bahamas issued a hurricane warning Monday afternoon for the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini and Grand Bahama Island.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Hallandale Beach to Altamaha Sound, Lake Okeechobee and the Bahamian islands of Andros Island, New Providence and Eleuthera.

Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning.
Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning – Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel

Given that forecast, it’s likely South Florida voters will begin feeling the effects on Election Day, Tuesday, as the system brings moisture up from the Caribbean Sea.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link said that the weather is not expected to affect voting or any polling sites, but if a location experiences any flooding or loses power, voters will be re-directed to the closest site. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office said in a tweet Monday night that all polls will be open as planned for Election Day.

South Florida will see the heaviest of any rainfall from the storm between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the weather service. Between 4 and 6 inches are expected in parts of Palm Beach County and Broward County, though higher amounts in some areas are possible.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the hurricane center’s latest advisory said.

From Hallandale Beach to North Palm Beach, storm surge could reach 2 to 4 feet and 1 to 2 feet from north of Ocean Reef to Hallandale Beach, including Biscayne Bay. From North Palm Beach to Altamaha Sound, storm surge could reach 3 to 5 feet, the center’s latest advisory said.

Robert Garcia, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service Miami, said there have already been reports of some minor flooding in the coastal areas of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and that coming high tides will be measuring in an upward trend before any affects from Nicole.

“It is not something that looks like it’s going to go away this week. We’re already starting to see those higher water levels, and with the storm we’re expecting them to increase,” Garcia said.

Some tornadoes may also be possible in Palm Beach County from Wednesday into Thursday morning, according to the weather service.

Forecasters are also monitoring a stormy area of low pressure located 650 miles east of Bermuda early Tuesday night. Forecasters said its chances of developing are quickly lessening as it heads northeast into cooler waters in an area of upper-level winds.

The system near Bermuda had a 30 percent chance of developing in the next two to five days, according to the hurricane center, down from 70 percent on Sunday.

There have been two major hurricanes, meaning Category 3 or above, so far this season: Fiona and Ian.

The next named storm to form would be Owen.

NOAA has predicted at least four more hurricanes will form before hurricane season officially ends on November 30.

Top Feature Photo: Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning, November 8, 2022 ahead of subtropical storm Nicole. Bags will be limited to six per car, proof of residency is required, bring your own shovel, while supplies last from 7am to 7pm – Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel