Florida is bracing for a rare November hurricane as Nicole churns off the state’s Atlantic Coast. The huge category one hurricane has lashed Grand Bahama Island and is forecast to hit Florida overnight.
Nicole has already grounded flights and shut theme parks and schools in the state ahead of its projected landfall.
Since record-keeping began in 1853, Florida has had only two hurricanes strike in November, in 1935 and 1985.
Nicole would be the first hurricane to make landfall in the US this late in the season in 40 years. The storm is expected to hit south-eastern or east-central Florida coast early on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded Nicole – packing 75mph (120km/h) winds – on Wednesday evening from a tropical storm. The storm arrives just weeks after Hurricane Ian carved a swathe of destruction across Florida.
Several counties along the Florida coast have issued evacuation orders, which reportedly include former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach.
Most of Florida’s 67 counties are under a state of emergency declaration. Nicole was about 105 miles east of West Palm Beach as of Wednesday evening.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort closed early on Wednesday, and Orlando International Airport grounded commercial operations.
Newly re-elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told residents at a news conference that Nicole would “affect huge parts of Florida” on Thursday.
The NHC has forecast possible flash flooding across the Florida peninsula, with storm surges of up to 5ft. The sea wall along Indian River Drive, next to the Atlantic Ocean, has already been breached, said local officials.
Tropical storm-force winds extend outwards 485 miles from Nicole’s centre, the NHC said.
Nicole’s late arrival follows a relatively quiet storm season – for the first time since 1997 not a single hurricane or tropical storm formed in the Atlantic basin this August.
Nicole was forecast to move on Thursday into southern Georgia and the Carolinas on Friday.