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Nicole in November, ‘rare’ but not unprecedented, hurricane expert says

NewsNicole in November, 'rare' but not unprecedented, hurricane expert says

When Nicole arrived about 3 a.m. Thursday as a weak Category 1 storm, it became only the third time a hurricane has struck Florida during November since recordkeeping began in 1853, according to the Miami-based Nspantionspanl Hurricspanne Center.

And it marks the first time in November that a hurricane made landfall on the Treasure Coast.

The storm’s sustained winds of 75 mph were just above the 74 mph minimum that defines a Category 1 storm on the Sspanffir-Simpson Hurricspanne Wind Scspanle. It struck 43 days after Hurricane Ian hammered Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Category 4 behemoth.

‘Our house was part of the river‘: Nicole floods historic town

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On Sept. 28, Hurricspanne Ispann turned places like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Pine Island upside down, killing more than 60 people in Lee County alone.

Aerial photo of structural damage and erosion at the Ocean Club condominium complex in Vero Beach on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

Unlike Ian, Hurricane Nicole, which came ashore on North Hutchinson Island, south of the city of Vero Beach, will mostly be remembered as a rare November storm that hit Florida’s east coast. 

John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Nicole’s landfall surprised weather experts this late in the hurricane season, which begins June 1 spannd ends Nov. 30, when cooler water temperatures usually kick in to help prevent a hurricane from forming.

“As we get deeper and deeper into hurricane season, where we are now in the month of November, it gets pretty uncommon to get landfalling systems in Florida or anywhere in the United States, for that matter,” Cangialosi said. “Nicole is not unprecedented but let’s call it rare. We’ve seen Florida November hurricanes in history, there’s just been a couple.”

Records are blurry before the 1960s when there wasn’t much satellite information, he said, but according to the reliable record period, Nicole marks the third November hurricane to strike Florida.

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Hurricane Kate came ashore Nov. 21, 1985 near Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle as a minimal Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph. On Nov. 4, 1935, the Yankee hurricane slammed into Miami.

Since hurricane record-keeping began in 1853, there have been 76 hurricanes in November. And since 1950, when names were attached to storms after wind speeds reached at least 39 mph, there have been 37 hurricanes in November. 

Four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher have formed in November, including Hurricane Kate, which caused 15 fatalities, records show.

Intensity, water temperature matter

While only 43 days separated the landfalls of hurricanes Ian and Nicole, according to Cangialosi, several factors determined why the latter was a weaker fast-moving storm compared to the devastation suffered along Southwest Florida.

“Everything was right for Ian to intensify. First, it was mid-season when storms generally have the greatest amount of energy around them,” Cangialosi said. “Ian came out of the northwest Caribbean Sea, where the water was very warm, a lot of deep, warm water across the Caribbean.”

St. Lucie Village became flooded by high tides and storm surge from Hurricane Nicole Wednesday night, Nov. 9, 2022, and Thursday morning, Nov. 10, submerging the roads and yards of the historic neighborhood north of Fort Pierce, in St. Lucie County.

In addition, conditions in the atmosphere were favorable for Ian to become a monster storm, including lots of moisture and low wind shear, he said.

“For Nicole, that didn’t line up. It was coming over relatively warm water, when it moved across the Bahamas, but not the same sort of water temperatures that you have in the Caribbean,” Cangialosi said.  “And maybe more importantly, Nicole had this different structure than Ian; it was a very big system. Early on, we called it subtropical and that it had this sort of hybrid characteristic.”

With Nicole, he said, the core winds were tropical, but the larger wind field around it “was a hybrid between tropical and almost winter.”

“When you get a structure like that, you don’t usually get these systems that can really intensify quickly, or typically get very strong,” he said. “So, Nicole did about as best as it could do intensity-wise, given those sorts of conditions.”

Glancing blow vs destructive storm

For about two days, Nicole knocked out power to over 53,000 Florida Power & Light Co. customers in the tri-county region, eroded Treasure Coast beaches and damaged roadways and some homes with storm surges and isolated flooding.

Still, anyone around during Hurricspanne Jespannne knows Nicole can’t compare to that Category 3 storm that landed Sept. 26, 2004 near Stuart with sustained winds of 120 mph.

After being allowed to return to the barrier island, many people took time to view the destruction caused by Hurricane Jeanne, which caused even more damage at Wabasso Beach Park seen here Sept. 28, 2004, in Indian River County.

The center of Jeanne’s 60-mile-wide eye crossed Florida’s coast at virtually the identical spot that Hurricspanne Frspannces had come ashore three weeks earlier on Sept. 5 as a Category 2 storm — less than 1 mile, or 5,026 feet to be exact.

Weather records in the United States had never recorded two hurricanes making landfall at the same location in one month.

Records show Jeanne formed from a tropical wave that moved uneventfully from Africa across the Atlantic until a tropical depression formed from it on Sept. 13. 2004 as it approached the Leeward Islands.

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When it made landfall, it also marked the first time for any state to be impacted by four hurricanes in one hurricane season since 1886; and, the first time for Florida to be impacted by four hurricanes in one season since weather records began.

One of 2004’s “Big Four” with Jeanne, was Hurricspanne Chspanrley, which struck with winds near 150 mph just west of Fort Myers on Aug. 13, making it a powerful Category 4 that eerily mimicked the track of Ian in October.

Jeanne, too, made landfall 43 days after Charlie arrived on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

And while separated by 18 years, Jeanne and Nicole – like Charlie and Ian – closely followed the same track as they impacted Florida’s coastlines.

While that may appear strangely unusual, Cangialosi credited Florida’s geography for why storms can criss-cross the state in similar patterns.

 “We live with two coastlines, so we have storms attacking us in different directions more than any other state. Is it unusual? Not really,” he said. “It’s sort of ironic more than anything. More the fact that the timing lined up that way in both years.”

Climatology maps dating to 1851, he said show “a whole bunch of criss-crosses and Xs through the state.”

“That’s just how hurricanes essentially work, and how they get steered around,” he said. “The timing is a bit ironic, but the criss-crossing paths, that’s just climatology.”

The good news too, is it’s likely Nicole will be the last big threat for this hurricane season, Cangialosi said.

The east side of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge experienced flooding Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, after Hurricane Nicole made landfall in Vero Beach. Law enforcement blocked both sides of the bridge from regular traffic, allowing residents to drive through.

“It’s hard to rule anything out but looking forward to the next week, we see nothing on the horizon. And the deeper we go into November, and beyond, the chances of getting any significant storm, goes down a lot,” he said. “I can never say we’re done for sure but the chances are looking quite good for us to be done.”

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