When Nicole arrived around 3 a.m. Thursday as a weak Category 1 storm, it was only the third time a hurricane has hit Florida in November since records began in 1853. according to the Miami-based bureau. National Hurricane Center.
And this is the first time in November that a hurricane has made landfall on the Treasure Coast.
The storm’s sustained winds of 75 mph were just above the 74 mph low that defines a Category 1 storm on the Hurricane Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. It struck 43 days after Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Category 4 giant.
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On September 28, Hurricane Ian upended places like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Pine Island, killing more than 60 people in Lee County alone.
Unlike Ian, Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall on North Hutchinson Island, south of the town of Vero Beach, will be mostly remembered as a rare November storm that hit the east coast of Florida. .
John Cangialosi, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Nicole’s landfall surprised weather experts at the end of the hurricane season, which begins June 1 and ends November 30when cooler water temperatures usually kick in to help prevent a hurricane from forming.
“As we move further and further into hurricane season, where we are now in the month of November, it becomes quite rare to have landing systems in Florida or anywhere in the United States, to somewhere else,” Cangialosi said. “Nicole is not unprecedented but let’s call it rare. We have seen hurricanes in Florida in November in history, there have only been a few.
Records are hazy before the 1960s, when there wasn’t much satellite information, he said, but according to Reliable Period of Record, Nicole marks the third November hurricane to hit Florida. .
Hurricane Kate landed on November 21, 1985 near Mexico Beach in the panhandle of Florida as a minimum Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph. On November 4, 1935, Hurricane Yankee hit Miami.
Since hurricane recording 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 Category 3 or greater hurricanes formed in November, including Hurricane Kate, which killed 15 people, 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 and faster storm compared to the devastation experienced along southwest Florida.
“Everything was going well for Ian to step up. First, it was mid-season when storms usually have the most energy around them,” Cangialosi said. “Ian came out of the northwest from the Caribbean Sea, where the water was very warm, lots of deep warm water across the Caribbean.”
Additionally, weather conditions were favorable for Ian to become a monster storm, including plenty of moisture and low wind shear, he said.
“For Nicole, it didn’t fit. It was going through relatively warm waters as it passed through the Bahamas, but not the same kind of water temperature you get in the Caribbean,” Cangialosi said. “And maybe more importantly, Nicole had this different structure than Ian; it was a very big system. At first we called it subtropical and it had that kind of hybrid characteristic.
With Nicole, he said, the central winds were tropical, but the wider wind field around it “was a hybrid between tropical and almost wintry.”
“When you get a structure like that, you don’t usually get these systems that can really escalate quickly or generally get really strong,” he said. “So Nicole pretty much did her best in terms of intensity, given those kinds of conditions.”
Peek against destructive storm
For approximately two days, Nicole knocked out power to more than 53,000 Florida Power & Light Co. customers in the tri-county area, eroded Treasure Coast beaches, and damaged roads and some homes with storm surge and isolated floods.
Yet anyone around during Hurricane Jeanne knows Nicole can’t compare to that Category 3 storm that landed on September 26, 2004 near Stuart with sustained winds of 120 mph.
The center of Jeanne’s 60-mile-wide eye crossed the Florida coast at virtually the same spot as Hurricane Frances had landed three weeks earlier on September 5 as a Category 2 storm – less than 1 mile, or 5,026 feet to be exact.
US weather records had never recorded two hurricanes making landfall in the same location in a month.
Records show that Jeanne formed from a tropical wave that moved uneventfully from Africa across the Atlantic until a tropical depression formed from it on September 13, 2004 approaching the Leeward Islands.
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When it made landfall, it was also the first time a state had been hit by four hurricanes in a single hurricane season since 1886; and, the first time Florida has been hit by four hurricanes in one season since weather records began.
One of the “Big Four” of 2004 with Jeanne, was Hurricane Charleywhich hit with winds of nearly 150 mph just west of Fort Myers on August 13, making for a mighty Category 4 that eerily mimicked Ian’s track in October.
Jeanne also made landfall 43 days after Charlie arrived on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
And despite being 18 years apart, Jeanne and Nicole – like Charlie and Ian – closely followed the same lead when they hit the shores of Florida.
While that might sound oddly unusual, Cangialosi credited Florida’s geography for why storms can criss-cross the state in similar patterns.
“We live with two coasts, so we have storms attacking us from different directions more than any other state. Is this unusual? Not really,” he said. “It’s more ironic than anything. Plus the fact that the calendar lined up that way both years.
Climatology maps dating back to 1851, he says, show “a whole bunch of criss-crosses and Xs across the state.”
“That’s how hurricanes work and how they’re directed,” he said. “The timing is a little ironic, but the paths that cross are just climatology.”
The good news, too, is that Nicole is likely to be the last big threat this hurricane season, Cangialosi said.
“It’s hard to rule anything out, but looking forward to next week, we don’t see anything on the horizon. And the further we go into November, and beyond, the chances of having a storm important decrease a lot,” he said. “I can never say we’re done for sure, but the odds look pretty good that we’re done.”
Fort Myers News-Press reporter Mark H. Bickel contributed to this report.