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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tropical Storm Nicole was near hurricane strength as it moved toward the Bahamas Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center said.

At around 10 p.m. ET Tuesday, Nicole was located about 150 miles northeast of the northwestern Bahamas and 325 east of West Palm Beach.

The storm was moving west at 10 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 380 miles from the storm’s center, the center said.

“Not much change in track or intensity, but it is moving along faster,” WFLA Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli said. “For the Bay Area, this may mean a slightly stronger tropical storm moving through Polk County and then into the Nature Coast.”

Nicole will approach the northwestern Bahamas Tuesday night and move near or over the islands on Wednesday. It’s expected to be near or at hurricane strength when it approaches Florida’s east coast late Wednesday into Thursday morning, the center said. Then it should move across central and northern Florida and into Georgia.

“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,” the center warned. “Those hazards are likely to affect much of the Florida peninsula and portions of the southeast U.S.”

Tampa Bay should feel the storm’s impacts on Thursday morning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 34 Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Sarasota, Pasco, Polk, Manatee, and Highlands counties and told Floridians to prepare for Nicole’s potential impact.

The storm is expected to dump 3 to 5 inches of rain on parts of north and Central Florida, with some areas seeing isolated amounts of 8 inches. Parts of Georgia and South Carolina could see 1 to 4 inches of rain.

Isolated tornadoes could also be possible in the eastern parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina from Wednesday night to Friday.

The center said storm surge could raise water levels by 1 to 5 feet above normal tide levels along Florida’s east coast.

The following areas could see water levels rise above ground if the peak surge happens at high tide:

  • North Palm Beach Florida to Altamaha Sound Georgia including the St. Johns River to the Fuller Warren Bridge — 3 to 5 ft
  • Altamaha Sound Georgia to the South Santee River South Carolina — 2 to 4 ft
  • St. Johns River south of the Fuller Warren Bridge to Georgetown Florida — 2 to 4 ft
  • Hallandale Beach to North Palm Beach — 2 to 4 ft
  • Anclote River to the Ochlockonee River — 2 to 4 ft
  • Middle of Longboat Key to Anclote River including Tampa Bay —1 to 3 ft
  • North of Ocean Reef to Hallandale Beach including Biscayne Bay — 1 to 3 ft
  • Ochlockonee River to Indian Pass Florida — 1 to 2 ft

Swells generated by the storm — which can cause life-threatening surf and rip conditions — will likely affect the northwestern Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the southeastern United States coast over the next several days.

Watches and Warnings

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:

  • The Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini, and Grand Bahama Island in the northwestern Bahamas
  • Boca Raton to Flagler/Volusia County Line Florida

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

  • Andros Island, New Providence, and Eleuthera in the northwestern Bahamas
  • Hallandale Beach Florida to Boca Raton Florida
  • Flagler/Volusia County Line Florida to Altamaha Sound Georgia
  • Lake Okeechobee

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for:

  • North Palm Beach Florida to Altamaha Sound Georgia
  • Mouth of the St. Johns River to Georgetown Florida

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for:

  • Hallandale Beach to Boca Raton Florida
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Flagler/Volusia County Line to Ponte Vedra Beach

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:

  • South of North Palm Beach to Hallandale Beach Florida
  • Altamaha Sound Georgia to South Santee River South Carolina
  • Anclote River Florida to Indian Pass Florida

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for:

  • South of Hallandale Beach to north of Ocean Reef Florida
  • North of Bonita Beach to the Ochlockonee River Florida
  • North of Altamaha Sound Georgia to South Santee River South Carolina.

Other areas to watch

Forecasters are watching a low-pressure system about 950 miles east of Bermuda. It has a low 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm sometime in the next five days, the center said.

The center said, “the chance of significant development is quickly diminishing.”

The next named storm of the 2022 hurricane season would be Owen.