By FREIDA FRISARO and DÁNICA COTO
Shortly after Hurricane Nicole made landfall early Thursday along the east coast of Florida, it was downgraded to a tropical storm but it was still battering a large area of the storm-weary state with strong winds, dangerous storm surge and heavy rain.
The rare November hurricane had already led officials to shut down airports and theme parks and order evacuations in areas that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. But schools reopened in Miami-Dade County this morning, after storm watches were dropped.
Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September. The sprawling storm is forecast to head into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday, dumping heavy rain across the region.
Nicole, which made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, weakened to having maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) early Thursday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. The storm was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southeast of Orlando. It was moving west-northwest near 14 mph (22 kph).
A few tornadoes were possible through early Thursday across east-central to northeast Florida, the forecasters said. Flash and urban flooding will be possible, along with renewed river rises on the St. Johns River, across the Florida Peninsula on Thursday. Heavy rainfall will spread northward across portions of the southeast, eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England through Saturday.
The storm was massive in size, if not intensity. Tropical storm force winds extended as far as 450 miles from the center in some directions. Nicole was expected to move across central Florida on Thursday morning, possibly emerge over the far northeastern Gulf of Mexico in the afternoon, and then move across the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.
Large swells generated by Nicole will affect the northwestern Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the southeastern United States coast over the next few days. The storm was expected to weaken into a tropical depression over Georgia on Thursday night or early Friday.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they likely would not open as scheduled Thursday.