Rare November hurricane, Nicole washes ashore with widespread coastal destruction

Latest update on the tropics provided by Local 10 Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert Michael Lowry


Hurricane Nicole swept ashore east-central Florida during the overnight hours, making landfall just south of Vero Beach around 3 AM ET as a Category 1 hurricane, becoming only the third November hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. on record and the first November hurricane to hit Florida’s peninsula in 87 years.

Widespread coastal flooding and significant beach erosion was reported along nearly all of Florida’s Atlantic coast on Wednesday and Thursday.

Large and destructive waves aggravated coastal woes, with water running through roads like rivers and shoreline structures – from piers to homes – facing major damage and destruction in the face of powerful surf.

Storm tide flooding was the highest observed since 2017 in Miami-Dade County and the fourth highest coastal flood event since the present installation of the Virginia Key tide gauge in 1994. Moderate flooding at the Fort Lauderdale coastal gauge was the highest observed since at least 2018.

Farther up Florida’s coast along its badly damaged Space Coast, major coastal flooding was observed with Thursday morning’s high tide, with the NOAA tide gauge at Trident Pier at Port Canaveral, about five miles north of Cocoa Beach, hitting its third highest water level on record, falling only 0.3 feet shy Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, a Category 3 storm which made landfall about 30 miles south of Nicole.

Major coastal flooding stretched northward along Florida’s First Coast and southeast Georgia on Thursday morning as well. The tide gauge at Fernandina Beach, some 200 miles north of where Nicole came ashore and whose records extend back to the late 1800s, recorded its third highest water level on record, behind only Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the Great 1898 Georgia Hurricane, Georgia’s strongest recorded hurricane.

Though Nicole’s storm surge peaked at nearly 6 feet around the time of landfall some hours before daybreak when the normal astronomical tide was low, a strong and persistent onshore flow kept the storm surge high – albeit at roughly half its peak – through the morning high tide shortly after dawn Thursday.

The size of Nicole – from its 300-plus mile stretch of tropical storm winds to its radius of maximum winds that doubled that of typical hurricanes – was largely responsible for the battering waves and high waters that caused widespread coastal flooding and beach erosion through multiple high tide cycles reminiscent of a powerful nor’easter.

A buoy only 20 miles off Cape Canaveral recorded significant wave heights (highest of the average one-third waves) as high as 32 feet overnight, with individual waves likely topping 40 or 50 feet.

Sustained winds measured by coastal land stations and offshore buoys largely remained below hurricane force (74 mph), but winds gusted to 84 mph at a WeatherSTEM station in Daytona Beach shortly after 4 AM ET and to near hurricane force at a buoy east of Cape Canaveral at around 2 AM ET. Inland, Nicole brought upwards of 4 to 7 inches of rain to parts of the Treasure Coast, Space Coast, and inland into central Florida, but its northern track spared South Florida widespread inland flooding issues.

Though coastal issues will continue through today, conditions will improve come tomorrow for Florida as Nicole accelerates into the Appalachians.

On Sunday, another fall front will clear South Florida, cranking up the deep layer of protective wind shear that usually protects us from hurricanes this time of year, while the Atlantic looks to finally go dormant as hurricane season winds down in the weeks ahead.

About the Author:

Michael Lowry is Local 10's Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert.