Florida prepares as Nicole looms

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a news conference Wednesday morning on Nicole. (The Florida Channel)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Tropical Storm Nicole expected to strengthen to a hurricane before hitting the state’s East Coast, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration as Florida officials Wednesday urged residents to be prepared.

A 10 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center said the storm could make landfall in the state Wednesday night and move through Central Florida and North Florida on Thursday. Nicole is expected to bring heavy wind, storm surge and flooding.

“The combined winds and storm surge will contribute to continued beach erosion in areas that have already seen erosion from Hurricane Ian,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a morning news conference. “The wind field from the storm is very large. We expect impacts to stretch far beyond the center track.”

State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said “strong wind gusts will be felt across the entire Florida peninsula, Big Bend (region) and even over into the Panhandle.”

Tracking Nicole by the numbers (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Nicole looms as Florida continues recovering from Hurricane Ian, which made landfall Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm and caused widespread damage as it crossed the state. Like DeSantis, National Weather Service meteorologist Kelly Godsey pointed to Nicole exacerbating beach erosion caused by Ian.

“We are going to see a long period of onshore winds and high surf, even before the center of the storm gets to the coast,” Godsey said. “That is just going to worsen the beach erosion that has already been ongoing, that Hurricane Ian caused when it went past the area.”

A hurricane warning was in effect Wednesday morning from Boca Raton to the border of Volusia and Flagler counties. Also on the East Coast, a tropical-storm warning was in effect from Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton and from the Volusia-Flagler border all the way north to South Carolina. On the Gulf Coast, a tropical-storm warning was in effect from Bonita Beach in Southwest Florida to Indian Pass in the Panhandle.

Biden’s emergency declaration, which made available federal assistance to state and local response efforts, covered 40 counties. DeSantis earlier issued an executive order that declared a state of emergency for 34 counties, including Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns,

DeSantis has since expanded the state of emergency to 11 additional counties, including Alachua and Bradford.

DeSantis said 600 Florida National Guard members are activated and there are seven Urban Search and Rescue Teams on standby and ready to respond if needed.

Electric utilities also were preparing for power outages from the storm. For example, Duke Energy Florida said Wednesday it was staging about 5,000 workers to respond to outages. That includes bringing in crews from several other states.

“We anticipate this storm will bring strong winds and heavy rain over many parts of our Florida service territory, including areas still recovering from Hurricane Ian,” Todd Fountain, Duke Energy Florida storm director, said in a prepared statement. “Crews and resources are being staged in safe locations throughout the state to respond to outages as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Similarly, Florida Power & Light, which provides electricity along most of the East Coast, said Tuesday it had mobilized about 13,000 workers to respond to the storm.

“If this storm is coming in with 75 to 80 mph winds, those can be destructive,” Godsey, the meteorologist, said. “Those can bring down a lot of trees and power lines. Homes that are not built to withstand strong winds can suffer some structural damage as well.”