Hurricane Nicole Makes History With Late-Season Strike of Florida Panhandle

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Floridians were slammed with another historic hurricane on Thursday a month after clean-up and recovery efforts began following Hurricane Ian. Hurricane Nicole began as a tropical storm closer to the Bahamas. However, it struck Florida’s east coast as the first major storm to do so in November since the early 20th century.

Hurricane Ian struck Florida’s west coast at the end of September, making landfall as a devastating Category 4 hurricane, that killed more than 100 people. It also ended with some of the worst weather-related devastation America has seen since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Overall, Hurricane Nicole pales in comparison to the strength of Hurricane Ian. Nicole packed maximum sustained wind speeds of just 75 miles per hour compared to Ian’s 150-mile-per-hour maximum sustained wind speeds. Still, the New York Post reports that the November storm marks the latest in the season to make landfall on Florida’s east coast since the Yankee hurricane of 1935.

Further, the last hurricane to make landfall in November anywhere in the U.S. was Hurricane Kate. Kate came ashore along the Florida Panhandle on November 21st in 1985.

As recovery efforts begin along Florida’s coast following Hurricane Nicole, officials have recorded at least five fatalities. Two of those five deaths occurred during a car crash on the Florida Turnpike. Two more occurred when two individuals were electrocuted by downed powerlines in Orlando on Thursday. The fifth fatality came after one person became unconscious while trying to ride out Hurricane Nicole on a yacht in Cocoa Beach. They later died at the hospital.

Hurricane Nicole Causes ‘Sprite Lightning’ Ahead of Landfall

Aside from heavy rainfall, further flooding, and severe winds, Hurricane Nicole caused an altogether different kind of weather phenomenon. Before making landfall early Thursday morning, scientists were surprised to see the storm created a rare weather event called “sprite lightning.”

According to New Mexico Tech physics professor Caitano L. da Silva, sprite lightning events are “large scale, lightning-like discharges that happen above thunderstorms.” These occur in “response to powerful cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes in the underlying thunderstorms.”

Puerto Rico-based photographer Frankie Lucena recalled witnessing the sprite lightning amid Hurricane Nicole’s approach.

“This sprite appeared over one of the outer bands [of the storm] that was generating lots of lighting,” he said. He also offered a tip for storm watchers and fellow weather photographers.

“By the way, the outer bands [of a storm] are the best places to look for sprites,” Lucena hinted. “Back in 2016, I captured a bunch of sprites in one of the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew.”

Interestingly, while we tend to associate destruction from hurricanes like Nicole with warm weather patterns, József Bór, a lightning researcher at the Institute of Earth Physics and Space Science, said that the sprites actually occur in the coldest part of our atmosphere. He also said they’re a kind of “secondary lightning.”