Millions of Floridians were on an emergency footing on Tuesday as a subtropical storm steamed towards the state's Atlantic coast, threatening to drive a dangerous storm surge in the area within the next two days.
Storm Nicole, packing maximum sustained winds of 80 kilometres per hour, was located about 615km north-west of the Bahamas as it moved west towards Florida, the National Hurricane Centre said in an advisory on Tuesday morning.
With the storm expected to strengthen throughout the day as it travelled towards Florida, about 18 million people along the state's Atlantic coast were under NHC-issued watches and warnings.
The area did not take a direct hit from Hurricane Ian six weeks ago, but it did receive heavy rains and strong winds from the catastrophic storm that claimed more than 140 lives and caused $60 billion in damage after slamming into the state's Gulf Coast.
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On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 34 east coast counties, saying it was “in an abundance of caution” so that the area's residents and businesses can prepare.
“While this storm does not, at this time, appear that it will become much stronger, I urge all Floridians to be prepared and to listen to announcements from local emergency management officials,” Mr DeSantis said in a statement.
On its forecast track, the centre of Nicole will approach the north-western Bahamas on Tuesday and move near or over the islands on Wednesday before it approaches the east coast of Florida later in the day.
Residents were preparing for the storm on Tuesday on the Bahamian islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, which were battered by Hurricane Dorian three years ago.
Holmes Rolle of West Grand Bahama said he does not plan to leave his home or shutter the windows.
“I just believe that, at this time and with the type of storm, it just calls for some winds and plenty rain,” Mr Rolle said in a telephone interview.
“It's going to take more than a Category 1 hurricane or so to really move stuff and have them flying around.”
Nicole's centre was then expected to move across central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday, the NHC said, warning of dangerous storm surge along with heavy winds and strong rains.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the service said. “Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions.”