Tropical Storm Nicole weakens as it moves north into Georgia

Tropical Storm Nicole weakened to a tropical depression as it crossed the Florida Panhandle on its way north into Georgia.

The storm had sent Florida homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean earlier on Thursday and threatened a row of high-rise condominiums in places where Hurricane Ian washed away the beach and destroyed seawalls only weeks ago.

At 10pm, a National Hurricane Centre advisory said the centre of the storm was about 20 miles (35 kilometres) north of Tallahassee with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kmh). It was moving to the northwest at 15 mph (24 kmh).

The storm, which caused at least two deaths, was the first November hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 37 years and only the third on record. It delivered another devastating blow just weeks after Ian came ashore on the Gulf Coast, killing more than 130 people and destroying thousands of homes.

Tropical Weather Florida
Condominium amenities and a unit terrace lie toppled onto the beach after the sand below was swept away at Vero Beach, Florida (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Officials in Volusia County, which is northeast of Orlando, said on Thursday evening that building inspectors had declared 24 hotels and condos in Daytona Beach Shores and New Smyrna Beach to be unsafe and had ordered their evacuations.

At least 25 single-family homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had been declared structurally unsafe by building inspectors and also were evacuated, county officials said.

“Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” county manager George Recktenwald said during a news conference earlier, noting that it is unknown when it will be safe for evacuated residents to return home.

The county’s sheriff, Mike Chitwood, said in a social media post that multiple coastal homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had collapsed and that several other properties were at “imminent risk”.

Tropical Weather Florida
Guests brave wind and rain at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World as conditions improve following Tropical Storm Nicole’s passing (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Nicole was sprawling, covering nearly the entire weather-weary state of Florida while also reaching into Georgia and the Carolinas before dawn on Thursday. Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 450 miles (720 kilometres) from the centre in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida.

Although Nicole’s winds did minimal damage, its storm surge was more destructive than might have been in the past because seas are rising as the planet’s ice melts due to climate change, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

It adds up to higher coastal flooding, flowing deeper inland, and what used to be once-in-a-century events will happen almost yearly in some places, he said.

A man and a woman were killed by electrocution when they touched downed power lines in the Orlando area, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.

Nicole also caused flooding well-inland, as parts of the St Johns River were at or above flood stage and some rivers in the Tampa Bay area were also nearing flood levels, according to the National Weather Service.

Jersey Evening Post