As Subtropical Storm Nicole looms, Volusia-Flagler beaches prepare for more pounding

Jim Abbott
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH – Here we go again.

With damage from Tropical Storm Ian still evident along the Volusia and Flagler coast, the approach of Subtropical Storm Nicole shifted residents, government agencies and business owners into preparation mode yet again on Monday ahead of the storm’s anticipated midweek arrival.

Although Nicole isn’t forecast to approach the eastern Florida Peninsula until sometime Wednesday, the initial effects of the system were expected to arrive on Monday in Volusia and Flagler counties, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Volusia and Flagler counties were under both a tropical storm watch and a storm surge watch on Monday, part of an advisory area that stretched along Florida’s east coast from Miami-Dade County into Glynn County, Georgia.

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More:Hurricane, storm surge watches issued as Subtropical Storm Nicole targets Florida

Beachgoers walk past a barnacle-covered shipping pallet, washed ashore with lots of seaweed on Monday near Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach. Although Subtropical Storm Nicole isn't forecast to approach Central Florida until Wednesday, the storm's initial effects could be evident on Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

The watches mean those respective conditions are possible within 48 hours.

A subtropical system is a classification for storms that exhibit characteristics of both tropical storms and non-tropical low-pressure systems. Nicole is the 14th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

On Monday, “rough, choppy surf will produce dangerous ocean conditions at the central Florida Atlantic beaches, with breaking waves between 5 to 7 feet in the surf zone,” the NWS hazardous weather outlook stated. Additionally, water could approach the dune line in some spots around morning and afternoon high tide, with minor beach erosion possible, the NWS advisory stated.

Nicole expected here on Wednesday

Nicole is forecast to move slowly north to a position east of the Bahamas on Monday night, then turn west and move across the central or northern Bahamas by Wednesday before approaching the eastern Florida peninsula late Wednesday night or early Thursday.

In Central Florida, preparations should begin now for at least tropical storm conditions by mid to late week, according to the Weather Service.

Beachgoers walk past erosion damage leftover from Tropical Storm Ian on Monday at Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach. In the wake of that storm, Subtropical Storm Nicole is forecast to approach Volusia and Flagler counties by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Strong, gusty northeast winds will produce very high seas, rough, pounding surf, large breaking waves and numerous life-threatening rip currents, the advisory stated.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency for 34 counties in the potential path of Subtropical Storm Nicole, including Volusia and Flagler 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,” DeSantis said. “We will continue to monitor the trajectory and strength of this storm as it moves towards Florida.”

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Volusia, Flagler officials: Prepare now

Also on Monday, Volusia County officials urged residents to stay off the beach and prepare as Nicole threatens to further damage the coastline a little over a month after Ian.

A pair of beachgoers brave the rough surf on Monday in Daytona Beach, where the initial effects of Subtropical Storm Nicole were evident long before its expected approach on Wednesday. Volusia and Flagler county officials urged residents to prepare now.

"This storm is predicted to become a very large subtropical storm over the next several days with potential of being upgraded to either a tropical storm or possibly even a hurricane," said Kevin Captain, Community Information Director for Volusia County. "The direct path and intensity of the storm is not entirely certain. However, what we do know is that all of Volusia County will experience some effects especially those who live on the coast." 

Volusia County was already seeing dangerous marine conditions that are expected to worsen over the next couple of days, along with other impacts, said Jim Judge, the county's Interim Emergency Management Director at a Monday press conference.

Winds could be 20-25 mph inland and 25-30 mph along the coast, with gusts of 35-45 mph, Judge said. Storm surge could be 2-4 feet and 5 feet in certain parts of the county. Waves could be 6-8 feet high Tuesday and Wednesday and up to 8-10 feet on Thursday, he said.

A pair of beachgoers watch as waves start to crash under the Daytona Pier in Daytona Beach, where the initial effects of Subtropical Storm Nicole were evident long before its expected approach on Wednesday. Volusia and Flagler county officials urged residents to prepare now.

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Water level of the Halifax River could increase by 2-3 feet, Judge said. Rainfall could total 4-8 inches countywide.   

The Emergency Operations Center plans to go to a full-scale activation on Wednesday, Judge said. The county has two shelters on standby in case they are needed, including one special needs shelter and one general population shelter. Both would be pet friendly.  

 Any evacuation order would be voluntary, Judge said.   

"The good news, if there is any, out of this whole thing, is that once the system does make landfall along the Treasure Coast it is forecast to move out into the Gulf and then hopefully stay out that way and going up into the Big Bend," Judge said.

As Nicole approaches, the county is still assessing damage from Tropical Storm Ian, a total that topped $340.3 million countywide as of Oct. 31.  

Some areas are "extremely vulnerable" along the coast, and areas that saw widespread flooding in Tropical Storm Ian should be ready to see more flooding, Captain said.

"If you live on the coast, we strongly recommend that you make your final preparations today, then move to a safer location ... as soon as possible," he said.  

Jessica Fentress, director of the Coastal Division for Volusia County, said that Monday was likely the last day for coastal property owners to make repairs to seawalls or other preparations before the storm hits.

Some properties are in danger of collapse, she said.  

"The potential for impacts is very significant with regards to erosion," Fentress said. "If you are an oceanfront property owner, I would take this very seriously. And if you are uncomfortable or nervous with structural integrity of your house, I would urge you find shelter elsewhere."  

The county will provide free sand and empty sandbags from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in the Volusia County Correctional Facility parking lot at 1354 Indian Lake Road in Daytona Beach. Some municipalities also plan to provide sand and sandbags, so residents of those cities should check with their local government or go to volusia.org/pin.    

Volusia County schools are expected to be open on Wednesday and Thursday but closed Tuesday for election day, and Friday for Veterans Day, Captain said.  

All voting precincts were expected to be open as normal for election day.  

 In Flagler County, residents were urged by county officials to make storm preparations immediately.

Residents and businesses on the barrier island — from the Volusia County line to the St. John’s County line — should be prepared to evacuate as early as Wednesday morning, officials said.

“At this time, it is expected that Flagler County will see conditions similar to what we saw with (Tropical Storm) Ian, to include coastal flooding and power outages but with less rainfall and therefore less inland flooding,” said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord. “If we call for evacuations, we will open a shelter.”

'King Tide' intensifies beach erosion threat

In Volusia and Flagler counties, the threat of beach erosion is amplified by the presence of a full moon that is generating a so-called “King Tide,” according to forecasters. That’s a period of exceptionally high tides that occur when the gravitational pull of the sun increases the gravitational pull of the moon that affects ocean tides, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

“We will be coming out of a full moon just as the storm is impacting our area, so the tides already will be increased higher than they would be on everyday basis,” said Cassie Leahy, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Beachgoers hang out on Monday at Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach, where damage from Tropical Storm Ian is still visible as yet another storm heads toward Volusia and Flagler counties this week. Subtropical Storm Nicole is expected to approach Central Florida on Wednesday, but it's initial effects were already evident on Monday.

“On top of that, the onshore flow will be fairly strong over next few days, beginning tonight, well ahead of the storm,” Leahy said. “All of that water has to go somewhere. If the winds are blowing to the east, the water will be building up onshore. With already higher tides, that just contributes to higher water levels along the coast.”

The higher tides could result in surf that’s as high as 8-10 feet, contributing to a significant threat for beach erosion, Leahy said.  

“When you have all that really powerful wave action, it takes that sand off the coast,” she said. “A lot of these areas are already vulnerable with seawall damage or pier damage that will leave them more vulnerable than they would be normally. The surf enhances the storm surge and the combination of it all is going to contribute to some very, very significant beach erosion.”

Additionally, increasing coverage of showers and squalls is also expected from the storm. Squalls could produce wind gusts in excess of 50 mph, especially offshore and over coastal counties.

Rainfall totals associated with the storm may cause flooding and ponding of water in poorly drained urban areas, especially where the water table remains high, the NWS stated. This could also cause additional flooding and standing water concerns over the St. Johns River Basin.

The St. Johns River at Astor will remain in moderate flood stage for the foreseeable future, according to the NWS. The river is currently at 3.4 feet — well above initial flood stage of 2.3 feet — but is expected to reach 3.8 feet by Thursday morning. That’s nearly at the 4-foot threshold for major flooding.

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Also, a threat for tornadoes may develop if the storm’s center moves inland across the peninsula.

Although Nicole is anticipated to produce a 3-5-foot storm surge that’s comparable to the impact of Tropical Storm Ian, the storm’s rainfall total is not expected to approach Ian’s record-setting numbers, Leahy said.

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“This is not an Ian-type rain event,” she said. “Broadly, we’re looking at 4-6 inches, with some locally higher amounts up to 8 inches in spots further south toward Brevard County.”

Beachside hotels brace for another blast

For oceanfront hoteliers along State Road A1A, another looming tropical storm was obviously bad news.

At the landmark Plaza Resort & Spa in the core tourist district of Daytona Beach, workers were busy on Monday putting sandbags in place to keep water from penetrating the 323-room hotel at Atlantic Avenue and Seabreeze Boulevard.

The hotel already was forced to temporarily close its doors last week for a period that could potentially stretch for a year to repair damages inflicted by Ian.

In case you missed it:In Ian's wake, Daytona's Plaza Resort & Spa closes for repairs potentially through 2023

“We’ve already started putting sandbags out, trying to make sure the property is enclosed and no further damage can occur,” said Jonathan Abraham Eid, CEO of Vienna Capital, the hotel’s Los Angeles-based owner. “We’re in the middle of mitigation efforts right now and our hotel is already ripped apart completely because of the damage Ian caused to the roof on the building.”

When Ian made its slow trek across Volusia County, the storm caused flooding that affected the hotel’s spa as well as its first-floor and second-floor banquet rooms. Ian also caused heavy rain and wind damage to all the hotel’s oceanfront guest rooms, accounting for 170 out of the hotel’s 323 rooms.

The challenge to rebound:After Ian: With roofs gone, water-damaged rooms, long road back for some Daytona beachside hotels

In Daytona Beach Shores, preparations also were underway at the 212-room Shores Resort & Spa, said Rob Burnetti, the hotel’s general manager.

“It’s not good news,” Burnetti said. “We’re really just expecting more of a wind and rain event, but we’re not really clear on what we're going to be facing, so we’re waiting for that to take shape.”

Hotel staff members already are busy organizing supplies such as batteries, bottled water, flashlights and non-perishable food items, Burnetti said. During Ian, a team of employees rode out the storm, a crew that kept water from reaching the hotel’s lobby, he said. It hasn’t yet been determined if that plan will be repeated for Nicole, he said.

Beachgoers walk past a barnacle-covered shipping pallet that washed ashore with lots of seaweed on Monday near Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach. Subtropical Storm Nicole is forecast to approach Volusia and Flagler counties by Wednesday.

“Right now, should something catastrophic happen to our systems, we want to make sure we have the basics,” he said. “We’re preparing for power outages, checking our generators; and we’ve consolidated our food storage into several coolers.

“Fortunately, there’s not a whole lot of dust on our preparedness manuals,” he said.

Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, urged everyone in the county to take the storm seriously.

“Be prepared now and don’t wait,” Davis said. “It may not be a big hurricane, but it will spread around everywhere. Be prepared.”

In Flagler, sandbags, barricades await storm

Flagler Beach was preparing for Nicole after Ian flooded at least portions of nearly 200 homes, washed away chunks of dunes, wrecked dune walkovers and ripped a section off the city’s iconic wooden pier, which will not reopen.  

“Well, here we go again,” Flagler Beach City Manager William Whitson said. 

The city’s main focus was on the coast because it was anticipated to create coastal erosion, he said. 

Whitson said the city was working with the Florida Department of Transportation to monitor and protect A1A. Ian caused a large hole to open in A1A, which has since been repaired. 

Beachgoers walk past a barnacle-covered shipping pallet that washed ashore with lots of seaweed on Monday near Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach. Subtropical Storm Nicole is forecast to approach Volusia and Flagler counties by Wednesday, bringing more rain and wind to already hard-hit Volusia and Flagler counties.

He said FDOT is preparing by lining up extra barricades, contractors, sand and rock in case those are needed. 

“I've always said your best efforts in an emergency happen before the emergency,” Whitson said. 

The city has started a sand bagging operation at Santa Maria Del Mar Catholic Church, 915 N. Central Ave. 

In Palm Coast, the city also is also preparing for wind and rain, said city spokeswoman Brittany Kershaw. City crews are checking water levels in canals “to be sure we’re in good shape,” she wrote in an email. 

A pair of beachgoers watch as waves start to crash under the Daytona Pier on Monday in Daytona Beach, where the initial effects of Subtropical Storm Nicole were evident long before its expected approach on Wednesday. Volusia and Flagler county officials urged residents to prepare now.

Coastal tides could be elevated by four feet with waves up to 15 feet, according to a tweet from Flagler County Emergency Management. Winds are expected to be more than 40 mph and rainfall totals of up to four inches through Friday, the tweet stated. 

The tweet stated that Nicole’s effects “may be similar to (Tropical Storm) Ian, but with less inland flooding.” 

Flagler County stated sandbags would be available Monday until supplies run out at Flagler Technical College, 5633  N. Oceanshore Blvd., and at Bay Drive Park, at 30 Bay Drive in the Hammock. 

Sheldon Gardner and Frank Fernandez of the News-Journal staff contributed to this report.