10895617064?profile=RESIZE_710xHurricane Nicole produced days of turbulent waves along the coast in advance of and after landfall. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Larry Barszewski and staff reports

Hurricane Nicole delivered only a glancing blow to Palm Beach County, but the rare November hurricane still eroded county beaches, gouged out large sections of dunes and combined with king tides to flood barrier island communities.
South Palm Beach County coastal communities were spared the severe pounding that undermined beachfront condos and homes to the north in Volusia County around Daytona Beach. The Category 1 storm made landfall at about 3 a.m. Nov. 10 just south of Vero Beach on North Hutchinson Island, some 100 miles to the north of Delray Beach.
While the strong surf took a toll washing away beaches and dune staircases locally, many South County beaches were recovering nicely just a few weeks later.
Residents at The Addison on the Ocean condominium in Boca Raton were initially concerned about the beach loss there, General Manager Scott Bragg said, but the sand had built back substantially before residents celebrated Thanksgiving.
“The beach settled itself back. Now our beach is almost even bigger,” Bragg said. “Mother Nature has her own strange ways.”

Briny sees worst of it
Unfortunately, her ways brought king tides together with strong hurricane storm surge and surf, producing areas of heavy flooding in South County, especially in Briny Breezes.
“There were homes down there that were entirely flooded,’’ said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Richard Jones, whose department provides public safety services for Briny Breezes.

Related: Briny Breezes: Tough decisions ahead on costly plan to keep town dry

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 that the town usually relies on were not working.
“But even if the pumps had worked,” Jones said, “I mean, water was overtopping the sea walls. There is literally no way it would have mattered.”
In Manalapan, waves crashed over dunes and got into homeowner tunnels that run under State Road A1A and link homes on the west side of A1A to the beachfront, Vice Mayor Stewart Satter said.
“At 1660 [S. Ocean Blvd.], when I was on the beach, the tunnel we put in, the water came up over the dune — the first time I ever saw it do that,” Satter said, including even during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “It filled the tunnel in 4 feet of water. The head wall and tunnel had a waterline at about 5 feet off of the beach. It brought all the debris over the dune against the wall [there].”
In Lantana, safe public access to the beach wasn’t restored until the end of November, due to damage to the stairs there. Town Manager Brian Raducci said a temporary fix — metal stairs with railings — opened Nov. 29. Public Works Director Eddie Crockett said lifeguards were on duty and the boardwalk and Dune Deck restaurant had remained open while the temporary stairs were installed.

Ocean Ridge’s water woes
Ocean Ridge received the most rain in the county from Hurricane Nicole, according to the National 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 storm struck just days after the Nov. 8 full moon, which meant tides were already at their highest even before the storm roiled the waters.
Ocean Avenue from Ocean Ridge to Boynton Beach had flooding problems both east and west of the bridge. At the height of the storm, many Ocean Ridge streets — including Hudson Avenue, Ocean Avenue, Coconut Lane, Inlet Cay Drive and Island Drive — were underwater and impassable by police vehicles, 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,” Jones said. He was 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.”

10895618081?profile=RESIZE_710xDune crossover stairs like these in Highland Beach were broken by Nicole. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Beaches take a beating
Down the coast in Highland Beach, high waves fueled by Nicole’s winds ate huge chunks of the dune line, creating deep sand cliffs and washing out beach stairways. The pounding came perilously close to some of the town’s luxury beachfront homes, leaving some with less than half of their backyards.
“In a number of homes there’s just a few feet before you fall straight down a vertical wall of about 10 feet,” said John Shoemaker, a town commissioner who surveyed the damage left by the storm. “Several homes lost between 10 and 20 feet of their backyards and in some cases lost staircases.”
Boca Raton municipal services and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees found erosion at all of Boca’s beaches when they inspected them on Nov. 15. They found no obvious indication of infrastructure impacts from the erosion, but Municipal Services Director Zachary Bihr said the Army Corps will complete its analysis in the coming weeks. The Army Corps also inspected beaches in Delray Beach, Ocean Ridge and Jupiter and planned to survey beaches in other cities, a Corps spokesman said. The Corps then will complete an inspection report which will be sent to the county. Depending on what the report shows, the county may be able to seek federal funding to rehabilitate beaches, he said.

10895620693?profile=RESIZE_710xWaves undermined a lifeguard station on Delray’s public beach, but the sea oats prevented more erosion. Photo provided by Kari Shipley

In Delray Beach, the north end of the municipal beach suffered the most with 4-foot drop-offs, according to an assessment by Chris Bell, Delray Beach’s emergency manager.
The Ocean Rescue North 2 lifeguard stand was displaced by the high waves that washed out sand from underneath it during Nicole. “It is not damaged, and Public Works staff is soliciting bids from a crane operator to reposition the tower,” Bell wrote in a Nov. 17 email to City Manager Terrence Moore.
Palm Beach County was still compiling information on beach erosion on Nov. 18, finalizing the assessment for storm damage losses.
Andy Studt, environmental program supervisor for the county’s coastal resources program, said dune and berm erosion occurred, but the significance varied on whether it was on an unmanaged beach or one which had previous renourishment. Studt said the good news was that previous big projects completed after Hurricanes Irma and Dorian protected infrastructure and property.
“So those projects did their job,” he said.

10895621283?profile=RESIZE_710xOcean Avenue flooded so badly in Ocean Ridge that the road had to be closed after several cars stalled out. Rachel S. O’Hara/The Coastal Star

Floods were widespread
Flooding problems popped up almost everywhere. In Delray Beach, low-lying roads along the Intracoastal Waterway flooded during king tides Nov. 9 even before the storm arrived, Moore said.
In Manalapan, the intersection of Ocean Avenue and A1A — in front of the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and Plaza del Mar — remained flooded and impassable hours after the storm pushed through the area.
“I thought I could walk to Publix but it’s a lake. You can’t get through it,’’ South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer, who lives north of the plaza, said late in the morning following the storm.
Manalapan Mayor Keith Waters told town commissioners at their Nov. 17 meeting that the Florida Department of Transportation is responsible for the road and needs to fix Ocean Avenue’s perpetual flooding issues that were at their worst after Nicole.
“We’re too nice of a town to have one of our three ways off the island blocked. That’s a health issue. That’s a safety issue,” Waters said.
Manalapan Police Chief Carmen Mattox said: “The electric cars didn’t do very well in that at all. We had one tow truck that was pulling them out and the other two trucks were loading them up and moving them out of there.”
Traffic on Ocean Avenue at times was down to one lane because of flooding after the storm, Lantana’s Crockett said. At Bicentennial Park and Sportsman’s Park, the sea walls were breached and the parking lots were flooded.

Wet and windy
Many Briny Breezes residents had heeded Palm Beach County’s mandatory evacuation order for people living in mobile homes and returned Nov. 10 to flooded streets.
Greg “Doc” Trudell chose to ride out the storm in his double-wide mobile home on the west side of town. He 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.”
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 weather service reported.
Nicole was only the fourth recorded hurricane to strike the United States after October. The official hurricane season ended Nov. 30.

10895622285?profile=RESIZE_710xLantana town employees Goly Rivera and Erik Canapa work to secure benches displaced by flooding at Bicentennial Park ahead of Hurricane Nicole. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Impact on businesses
Restaurants did their best to clean up and reopen quickly after Nicole moved away.
At the Old Key Lime House in Lantana, the hurricane party got a bit soggy before its hurricane-induced 7 p.m. last call Nov. 9, 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. “Cleanup 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 Nov. 10 cleaning up the water that came into their main space and dining room. There was also flooding reported in the dining room at Two Georges in Boynton Beach, and Kylie Mulhall at the neighboring Banana Boat said the parking lot flooded.
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.
“They closed the beach on Tuesday,” Hanlon said, “so we boarded up after 7 p.m., pulled in all the furniture, umbrellas and canopies.”
The next morning, Nov. 9, Hanlon and crew continued to secure both restaurants — he also owns Viva la Playa in the plaza on the beach nearby. When they came back the morning after the storm, high seas were still pounding the pier.
“King tides, big waves — it was something,” Hanlon said.
Although surf came over top of the east end of the pier, the water was not able to reach the dining room, as it sits almost as high as the pier entrance.
However, winds had taken out a few beer signs, damaged part of the electrical system, and caused damage to the conduit, Hanlon said. “There were other minor things, but we worked all day and got it all put back together.”
Fischer, the South Palm Beach mayor, had a front-row view of the storm’s aftermath from her oceanfront condo just north of Lantana Beach.
“The 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.”

Mary Thurwachter, John Pacenti, Jane Smith, Rich Pollack, Joe Capozzi, Mary Hladky and Jan Norris contributed to this story.

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