Nicole to bring a prolonged period of strong winds and extra-high tides to Florida and the Southeast
The just-developing system east of the Bahamas has been designated Subtropical Storm Nicole by the National Hurricane Center. The subtropical designation, in this case, means that the strongest winds are NOT near the center of circulation. The effects of the storm are spread far from the center.
Nicole is forecast to strengthen, loop across the northern Bahamas, and make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday on the east coast of Florida.
This storm will NOT be another Hurricane Ian that suddenly blows up into a super-intense Category 4 storm. The atmospheric pattern will limit its strength – likely to a strong tropical storm or at most a Category 1 hurricane. But the effects of the storm – especially wind and high tides – will extend for hundreds of miles north of where the center comes ashore in Florida. A strong high-pressure system over New England will contribute to the vast extent of the strong onshore wind.
Winds gusting at 40 to 50 mph pushing tides high enough to flood low-lying coastal areas will impact the coast from the landfall point in Florida north to at least the Carolinas.
There will be a noticeable increase in the winds along the coast today, more so tomorrow, then peaking in most areas on the Florida east coast Wednesday into Thursday. The strong onshore winds will coincide with a full moon, which will add to the unusually high tides. The tides in South Florida are already running about a foot above normal, and the continued push of ocean water against the coast will make the water rise higher yet.
Salt-water flooding is expected in low-lying areas along the entire Southeast coast.
Whether the core of the system can tighten up into a strong tropical storm or a hurricane when it crosses the extra-warm water of the Gulf Stream is an open question. If it does, there will be a narrow band of extra-strong wind on the north side of the circulation. If that occurs, the ocean will be driven higher where that band comes ashore late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Don’t get confused with the labels used to describe this system. The meteorological technicalities that make it a subtropical storm or a tropical storm aren’t important. Focus on the forecast effects. Anytime strong winds blow off the ocean for an extended period of time, storm surge occurs, power outages can be caused by downed trees, and gusty squalls of heavy rain can blow inland.
Looking ahead, there is a chance the storm could move across Florida and end up in the Gulf. If that happens, it could cause some issues along the west coast of Florida including storm surge in low-lying areas and high winds in coastal locations. At the current time, the odds are not high that Nicole will track far enough into the Gulf to have significant effects along the Florida Gulf coast, but it is something to watch.
An approaching dip in the jet stream and cold front should begin to grab the system on Thursday and turn it north. By Friday or Saturday, there’s a good chance it will be absorbed by the northern system and pulled north as a nor’easter along the coast or perhaps far enough offshore to have limited effect.
Our friends in the northern Bahamas are going to feel the effects of Nicole first. Tropical Storm Watches are already in effect, along with storm surge forecasts for an ocean-water rise of up to 5 feet. Alerts are coming for the U.S. coast later today.
North in the Atlantic, there’s still a chance that Tropical Storm Owen could form tomorrow. Its life will be short since it will quickly move over cold water.
Everybody in Florida should stay informed. Forecasts for just-developing systems are always subject to change.