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Nicole makes landfall on Grand Bahama Island as hurricane as it churns toward Florida

Tropical Storm Nicole reached hurricane strength Wednesday when it made landfall on Grand Bahama Island on its way toward Florida’s Atlantic coast and the Southeastern U.S.

It’s expected to make landfall in Florida early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said in a 1 a.m. update.

The storm is forecast to head into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. Heavy amounts of rain are expected across the region.

Florida, where evacuations had been ordered, is expecting storm surge that could further erode many beaches that were hit by Hurricane Ian in September.

President Joe Biden approved federal emergency aid for 45 counties, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Broward, Flagler and Seminole.

Nicole is the third hurricane in the Atlantic this month, tying the 2001 season for the most Atlantic hurricanes in November, according to Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric science researcher at Colorado State University.

When it made landfall Wednesday evening on Grand Bahama Island, Nicole had maximum winds of 75 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane.

Early Thursday, it was about 30 miles from Fort Pierce, Florida, and moving northwest at 15 mph, according to the hurricane center.

Flights at several airports were canceled ahead of the storm’s arrival. Palm Beach International Airport stopped all flights Wednesday morning, while Orlando International Airport said it was shutting down all commercial operations at 4 p.m. In Daytona Beach, the airport closed at 12:30 p.m. and plans to reopen Friday morning.

Meanwhile, airports in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville remain open, but they warned travelers to check with their airlines for possible flight delays or cancellations.

More than 500 Florida National Guard members have been activated to help with response efforts.

“These forces are actively pre-staging throughout the state but will remain flexible to re-position where needed to ensure a quick response,” the agency said. “Our forces are prepared to conduct a variety of missions to include bridge entry control points, traffic control points, search and rescue, security, and installation of Tiger Dam systems.”

In preparation for the storm, Walt Disney World Resort theme parks were to have a “phased closure” beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will remain closed through Thursday morning. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and at Saratoga Springs Resort’s Treehouse Villas are also required to leave, the park said, saying it will help people find alternative accommodations.

The hurricane center warned the entire state to be prepared for heavy weather.

“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, outside of the forecast cone,” it said in a “key messages” bulletin.

“These hazards are likely to affect much of the Florida Peninsula and portions of the Southeast United States,” it said.

Hurricane warnings were in effect overnight for a wide stretch of the state’s eastern shore — from Boca Raton, north of Miami, to the Flagler County line, north of Daytona Beach — forecasters said.

In an update Wednesday, Flagler County Emergency Management said evacuation orders for the barrier islands take effect at 3:30 p.m.

Other warnings urge residents to prepare and evacuate if necessary, as life-threatening conditions were en route, including hurricane-strength winds of 74 mph or greater, storm surges and coastal flooding.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the hurricane center said in a late-night public advisory.

A storm surge warning, which forecasts dangerously high ocean, wetland and river waters, was in effect from North Palm Beach, Florida, to Altamaha Sound, Georgia, it said.

Forecasters said central and northern Florida could expect 3 to 5 inches of rain, with 8 inches possible.

Storm surf is likely to affect a long stretch of the coastline, from the east coast of Florida to the Southeastern U.S., the hurricane center said.

“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” it said.

Minyvonne Burke and The Associated Press contributed.

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