Max Chiorean, of Boynton Beach, walked across the exposed rocks on Gulf Stream Beach with his surfboard on Nov. 10. Rachel S. O’Hara/The Coastal Star
By Larry Barszewski and Joe Capozzi and staff reports
A rare November hurricane combined with king tides to create coastal flooding problems throughout southern Palm Beach County Nov. 10, but officials reported mostly only limited storm damage.
Even Delray Beach’s 100-foot Christmas tree, already erected for the holiday season, came through unscathed by Hurricane Nicole, officials said. The Category 1 storm made landfall around 3 a.m. just south of Vero Beach on North Hutchinson Island, some 100 miles to the north of Delray Beach.
Some of South County's most serious situations were reported in Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes.
“Hudson Avenue, Ocean Avenue, Coconut [Lane], Inlet Cay [Drive], Island Drive — all of those areas were at some point between 9 p.m. and midnight under water to the point that they were impassable by police vehicles," Ocean Ridge Police Chief Richard Jones said. “We were using maintenance trucks to access areas to check on people, and at one point, Coconut and Hudson became impassable even with the maintenance trucks.”
While Jones said Ocean Ridge homes had no interior flooding damage, Briny Breezes was not as lucky.
“There were homes down there that were entirely flooded,’’ said Jones, whose police department provides public safety services for Briny Breezes. Exacerbating the flood problems was a malfunctioning transformer that cut off power to 255 homes on the west side of town north of the marina. That also meant water pumps, which the town usually relies on, were not working.
“But even if the pumps had worked,” Jones said, “I mean, water was overtopping the seawalls. There is literally no way it would have mattered."
Joanne Long is greeted by friend Carol Swallow as Tobin Cultrera removes her clam shutters upon her return to Briny Breezes following her evacuation from Hurricane Nicole. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Many Briny Breezes residents had heeded Palm Beach County’s mandatory evacuation order for mobile homes and were returning Thursday to the flooded streets.
Greg “Doc” Trudell chose to ride out the storm in his double-wide mobile home on the west side of town. He was one of the lucky residents who did not lose electricity and he said water never breached the top steps to his home.
“It wasn't too bad at all to be honest," he said. “The worst it got was maybe 50 miles per hour. I sat on my porch and watched it."
Beach sand washes away, again
Along the coastline In southern Palm Beach County, Nicole left behind washed out beach stairways, a tilted lifeguard stand and minor flooding damage. Nicole’s strongest winds in the county were recorded at the Juno Pier, with a gust of 62 mph. Wind gusts reached 54 mph in Boca Raton and 44 mph in Boynton Beach, the National Weather Service reported.
Still to be determined: The extent of beach erosion Nicole caused with its storm surge, stiff winds and crashing waves. Portions of eroded beach were visible at South Inlet, South Beach and Spanish River parks in Boca Raton. In Highland Beach, an “aggressive ocean” swallowed sand along its 3 miles of oceanfront, Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.
Nicole is only the fourth recorded hurricane to strike the United States after October. The official hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Dr. Bill Benda, a County Pocket resident, was down on the beach Thursday afternoon, surveying the erosion damage. The weather was beautiful but the Atlantic surf still churned with 10- to 12-foot breakers, he said.
“We had a ton of erosion. We lost a lot of our dunes,” he said. “The beach is about eight feet shorter than it was before the storm.”
Chris Fisher, National Weather Service meteorologist in Miami, said that local officials are still determining the extent of beach erosion up and down Florida’s east coast.
“We know there was some beach erosion,” he said. “As far as the extent of it, I don't think local officials have made their final determination.”
A lifeguard stand on Delray Beach settles on a tilt caused by erosion to the dune on Nov. 10.
The city's well planted dune helped keep the ocean from going over the dune and onto A1A. Photo provided by Kari Shipley
On Delray Beach’s public beach, a lifeguard stand was tilted due to erosion. The tower was fine on Nov. 9, said Chris Heffernan, a resident and a daily beach walker. On Nov. 10, he photographed the tower surrounded by caution tape, its shutters closed and nearly a 2-foot drop on the tower's ocean side.
City Manager Terrence Moore said the tower sitting on the edge of the dune needs to be moved to a less dangerous position on the beach. The move will take place in the next few days, he said. No lifeguard is using that tower.
Ocean Ridge’s water problems
When it came to rain, Ocean Ridge received the most in the county from Hurricane Nicole, according to the weather service. Nicole dumped 4.87 inches over a two-day period on the island community, which has historically battled drainage issues. One monitoring station in Boca Raton measured 4.17 inches, while Delray Beach got deluged by 3.89 inches at another.
The rain and storm surge came on top of king tides that were induced by the waning full moon. The exceptionally high tides occur around a full moon at times of the year when the moon is at its closest to earth. The full moon was Nov. 8.
Ocean Avenue from Ocean Ridge to Boynton Beach continued to have flooding problems both east and west of the bridge Thursday morning. Patches of the flooding in town were receding and all roads were passable, Ocean Ridge Mayor Susan Hurlburt said later in the morning.
Jones said he is drafting an “after-action” report to the Town Commission “showing what we experienced with a 2-foot storm surge."
He said he and Public Works Director Billy Armstrong will recommend the town invest in equipment such as a high-water rescue vehicle or a large tractor to be better prepared in case Ocean Ridge ever takes a direct hit from a hurricane.
“If this would have been a storm of any significance beyond what this was and people did not evacuate, there would have been absolutely no way we could have gotten to some of these people’s houses," Jones said. “We are going to have to do something. In all the years I've worked here and the years Billy has worked here, neither one of us has ever seen this level of flooding."
Flooded streets, parking lots and parks
In Delray Beach, low-lying roads along the Intracoastal Waterway flooded during king tides Wednesday even before the storm arrived, Moore said.
“I have never seen (the water) this high,” said Claudia Willis who has lived in Delray Beach’s Marina neighborhood on the west side of the Intracoastal since the 1980s. On Thursday, just after the 11 a.m. high tide, she was standing in at least a foot of water at the city’s marina, near the new sea wall.
Delray city workers placed a gate to close a gap in the Veterans Park sea wall along the Intracoastal on Wednesday, Moore said. The opening had allowed water from the Intracoastal Waterway raised by king tides to flood the park.
Communities up and down the coast reported flooding issues on State Road A1A and other roadways.
“We had the usual isolated flooding and experienced no damage to town-owned facilities, with the exception of the beach,” Lantana Public Services Director Eddie Crockett said. Crockett said there was no beach access Thursday morning, since stairs were destroyed, as was the ramp to the lifeguard stand.
Crockett reported extensive flooding on North Atlantic Avenue and Beach Curve Road on Hypoluxo Island during the height of the storm, but the roads had reopened Thursday morning.
On Lantana’s Ocean Avenue, traffic at times was down to one lane because of flooding. At Bicentennial Park and Sportsman’s Park, the sea walls were breached and the parking lots were flooded.
The entrance to the Eau Palm Beach garage and Lantana city parking lot remained flooded on Nov. 10. Photo provided by Bonnie Fischer
The intersection of Ocean Avenue and A1A – in front of the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and the Publix plaza – remained flooded and unpassable Thursday morning, said South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer, who lives to the north.
“I thought I could walk to Publix but it’s a lake. You can’t get through it,’’ she said late Thursday morning.
Some restaurants mop up to open up
At the Old Key Lime House on Ocean Avenue in Lantana, the hurricane party got a bit soggy before it’s hurricane-induced 7 p.m. last call on Wednesday, with ankle-deep flooding on the restaurant’s outside deck and bar.
“It never got in the restaurant dining room. It’s a foot higher than the deck and bar area,” owner Ryan Cordero said. “Clean up was minimal.”
The parking lot flooded up to the foundation of the restaurant, but before the biggest surge, staff had moved the outside furniture indoors.
Cordero’s neighbors at Sushi Bon Express were busy Thursday morning cleaning up the water that came into their main space in order to open soon. “Flood water came into the dining room. No time to talk,” a staffer said. “We have to mop up now.”
Both Two George’s and Prime Catch in Boynton Beach reported no flooding or damage, but Kylie Mulhall at the Banana Boat said their parking lot flooded. “It didn’t come into the restaurant, though.”
Over at Hurricane Alley, the ritual hurricane party was going full blast Wednesday.
Staff member Phil Saurman said, “We were open till 6 p.m. at the bar. The kitchen closed at 4. We were full and rocking.” They saw no damage from water or wind.
At the Dune Deck in Lantana directly on the beach, one of the owners, Daisy Palais said “lots of sand” was their biggest issue. It was blown into the outside dining room and patio. and had to be swept before they opened Thursday.
As for the sand on the beach and potential erosion, she said it was too early to tell if there would be much of a beach once the seas calmed.
“We can’t tell. The waves are still pounding our seawall. It’s magnificent. We’re seeing a beautiful show from Mother Nature.”
To the north, on the Lake Worth Beach Pier, Benny’s on the Beach had “a lot of damage,” according to chef-owner Jeremy Hanlon.
Hurricane’s ferocity pretty tame in South County
In South Palm Beach, tides and waves continued to crash against the seawalls of town condominiums without breaching the walls Thursday morning, and the stretch of A1A through town was passable and free of water, said Sgt. Mark Garrison of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Fischer, the mayor, had a front-row view of the storm’s aftermath from her oceanfront condo just north of Lantana Beach Park.
“The (sea) spray went so high it went to my sliding glass door. One came over and hit the door," she said. “We got lucky for sure."
Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf said the town experienced flooding overnight on A1A during the king tides and expected similar flooding again during the next high tide, but said there were no other storm-related issues in town and no damage to town property.
Down in Highland Beach, the king tides and storm transformed condo parking lots and side streets into ankle-deep lakes and streams. In all, town leaders report, there was little damage and any flood waters that made driving treacherous Wednesday had evaporated from the rain-soaked roads by early Thursday morning.
“There was nothing atypical to a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane,” Labadie said.
East of A1A, Nicole-propelled rough seas returned stretches of beach sand to the ocean where they formed sandbars 50 to 100 feet offshore. A few chaise lounges and some stairwells coming down from the dune appeared to be the only casualties.
Mary Thurwachter, John Pacenti, Jane Smith, Rich Pollack and Jan Norris contributed to this report.