Hurricane Nicole Causes Record-Breaking River Surge in Florida

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Hurricane Nicole hit Florida on Nov. 10, and the hurricane caused almost record-breaking storm surge, surpassed only by Hurricane Irma in 2017. But, without Irma’s heavy rain, Nicole would have definitely claimed the top spot for the worst storm surge in the area since the 90s.

Nicole holds the record for the second-highest surge above sea level, measured at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Irma reached 3.61 feet, while Nicole reached 3.57 feet. Meanwhile, Hurricane Ian only reached 2.48 feet. According to a report from WJXT out of Jacksonville, the storm surge coincided with high tide, leading to 19-foot swells offshore.

Winds were up to 70 mph, and the surge sent a rush of water up the St. Johns River and into the streets of Mayport. The small city saw some of the worst flooding in 2017 with Irma. But, Nicole stopped only feet short of the worst of it.

In the Southbank neighborhood, the storm surge hit 3.26 feet. Higher than Hurricane Ian, but below Irma’s 4.89 feet mark. Meanwhile, the tide levels at Buckman Bridge measured at 3.73 feet. Hurricane Irma came in at 5.24 feet.

According to WJXT, November storms are not as wet as summer storms. Irma hit in September, closer to the summer season, so it carried a lot of moisture, dumping 2.2 trillion gallons of rainwater on Florida. Additionally, Hurricane Nicole battered the beaches pretty severely. It caused erosion in the dunes which threatened beach-front homes. Fernandina Beach saw 3.81-foot surges, which is only the third-highest on record.

Hurricane Nicole Caused Almost Record-Breaking Storm Surge Surpassed Only By Hurricane Irma

Residents are wondering when the flooding will stop, but weather experts at WJXT say that rising sea levels due to climate change have permanently altered hurricane season. After Ian, there was persistent flooding along the St. Johns River and into nearby neighborhoods for weeks. There was high tide flooding along riverbanks, and water spilling from backed-up sewers and bulkheads. That was before Hurricane Nicole, and was just lasting damage from Ian.

Due to sea levels rising over the years, there has been much more high tide flooding, also known as king tides, nuisance, or sunny day flooding. Apparently, flooding like this didn’t happen decades ago. WJXT reports that flooding occurs three more days per year since 2011, compared with Jacksonville in the 50s.

Between 1960 and 2021, the water level rose 6 inches around Mayport. Additionally, flooding in Fernandina Beach is the second worst, behind Cedar Key, according to the NOAA. In Fernandina Beach, the average flood days in a year, about 4.6, is four times what it was in the 1950s. This is all due to sea level rise, which is due to climate change.

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that sea levels along the US coast will rise 10 to 12 inches by 2050, according to reports and graphs made by WJXT.