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A hurricane watch is issued for Florida as Subtropical Storm Nicole gathers strength

A satellite image of Subtropical Storm Nicole gathering strength east of the Bahamas.
NOAA
A satellite image of Subtropical Storm Nicole gathering strength east of the Bahamas.

A hurricane watch has been issued for much of Florida's eastern coast, as officials warned of heavy rainfall and a storm surge from Subtropical Storm Nicole, an unusual, late-season system that could reach hurricane intensity later this week.

On Monday, as the storm collected strength east of the Bahamas, officials warned of a "dangerous storm surge" of up to 5 feet and heavy rainfall that could affect parts of Florida still recovering from Hurricane Ian, the Category 4 storm that battered much of the state in September.

In Florida, the hurricane watch extends from the Volusia-Brevard county line east of Orlando south to Hallandale Beach, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The watch also covers Lake Okeechobee and the northern Bahamas.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for half of the state's counties. "While this storm does not, at this time, appear that it will become much stronger, I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials," he said.

The storm, which currently has maximum sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour, is expected to near hurricane-level speeds by Wednesday night. At that time, its predicted path will bring the storm over the northern Bahamas, the same islands that were devastated by the Category 5 storm Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

From there, Nicole is forecast to come ashore in Florida between Miami and West Palm Beach late Wednesday or early Thursday.

"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, and outside the cone," the National Hurricane Center warned Monday.

The storm is most likely to reach Florida as "a top-end tropical storm or a bottom-end hurricane," the NHC's Jamie Rhome said in a video forecast Monday.

The storm's slow speed and massive size — extending up to 275 miles out from its center — mean its effects may be felt across the state. It could dump as much as 6 inches of rain on parts of central and northern Florida, where the impact of flooding from Ian could still be felt last month.

Still, even if Nicole does reach hurricane strength, officials emphasized that it will be much weaker than Hurricane Ian.

"We're not forecasting a major hurricane. We're not forecasting rapid intensification at this time," Rhome said. Still, he urged residents of Florida and the southeastern U.S. to be "taking this seriously and paying attention."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.