Rapid Response: Late-Season Nicole Offers Needed Rainfall


The tropics had yet another surprise in store this season with Hurricane Nicole, which brought wet and windy weather as its remnants crossed North Carolina late last week.

Nicole was the 14th named storm of the 12 months, matching the 30-year average for the basin. While 2022 was predicted to have above-normal activity, the nearly two-month lull in July and August ultimately limited this season’s potential even despite the late-season surge, which also included Hurricane Lisa and Hurricane Martin up to now three weeks.

Nicole initially formed as a subtropical storm – a hybrid system that features some elements of a tropical storm, resembling circulation around a middle of low pressure, in addition to non-tropical features resembling a large, open eye with clouds and rain extending removed from the middle.

It will definitely moved over warmer water near the Bahamas and have become a full-blown tropical system, even reaching Category-1 hurricane strength before hitting the Florida coast on Thursday.

Nonetheless, it retained a few of those subtropical characteristics as a big storm with tropical storm-force winds as much as 450 miles from the middle of circulation because it made landfall, in keeping with the National Hurricane Center.

That meant its impacts were felt all across North Carolina because it moved through on Thursday night and Friday.

Nicole moves over the Southeast US on Friday, November 11. (Image from NOAA/GOES East)

Rain and Wind in NC

Nicole brought no less than half an inch of rain statewide, which was welcome relief for areas which have seen the emergence of drought in recent weeks.

The very best totals got here along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, where moist air forced up the mountain slopes by southeasterly winds produced greater than 4 inches of precipitation. Our Mount Mitchell ECONet station measured a two-day total of seven.73 inches, which was probably the most rain from a single storm there since an upper-level low pressure system in May 2020.

Nicole also snapped a two-month dry spell for a lot of western areas that mostly missed out on the rain from Hurricane Ian in late September. Since September 11, the Asheville airport had received only one.54 inches of rain and was greater than 5 inches below normal. The two.79 inches from Nicole effectively cut that deficit in half.

While several flash flood warnings were issued within the Mountains, river flooding was limited, largely because streamflows had dropped a lot through the ongoing drought. Of note, the French Broad River at Blantyre briefly reached motion stage because it crested late Friday and early Saturday.

A map of total precipitation and maximum wind gusts from Nicole in North Carolina
Total precipitation and maximum wind gusts from Nicole on November 10-11, 2022.

Not all drought-affected areas saw such high rainfall amounts, though. Graham and Swain counties, including the Great Smoky Mountains, had lower than an inch of rain because the storm’s moisture mostly wrung itself out on slopes farther east. Bryson City received only 0.85 inches from Nicole and stays mired in its 2nd-driest fall since 2011.

Elsewhere, rainfall totaled 1 to 2 inches across the Piedmont and Sandhills, including 1.98 inches in Greensboro and a couple of.06 inches in Laurinburg. In eastern North Carolina, totals generally ranged from a half-inch to an inch and a half. The 0.92 inches in Wilmington was the primary significant rain there since Ian greater than a month ago.

Winds weren’t a widespread issue from Nicole; on Friday morning, lower than 3,000 power outages were reported in North Carolina, in comparison with a peak of greater than 360,000 during Ian. Nonetheless, there have been some gusty conditions especially within the west. A mile up atop Grandfather Mountain, winds gusted to 56 mph at 6:28 pm on Friday night.

Nicole’s final threat was a tornado risk related to thunderstorms in its outer rain bands. The eastern half of the state was under a tornado watch on Friday morning, and funnel clouds were spotted near Siler City and Franklinton. As of this writing, the National Weather Service has not confirmed any tornadoes related to Nicole in North Carolina.

A photo of flooding along a road in Valle Crucis, NC
Flooding along the Watauga River in Valle Crucis on Friday afternoon. (Photo by @lindabaker54)

Nicole Amongst Historical Storms

The track taken by Nicole, from its landfall along Florida’s east coast to its inland movement over western North Carolina, was much like Jeanne in 2004. Nonetheless, that storm’s impacts were rather more pronounced than Nicole’s. Jeanne was the third tropical system in a month to soak the Mountains, and it ended that September with more flooding rains to cap off the wettest month ever recorded at some western locales.

Tropical systems affecting North Carolina this late within the 12 months are a reasonably unusual event. A 2007 report by James Hudgins on the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg noted just 7 days in November with tropical cyclone activity in North Carolina within the previous two centuries. That’s compared with 119 such days in September – our climatologically most energetic month of hurricane season.

The last storm to affect us in November, and maybe our most impactful November storm, was Tropical Storm Eta in 2020. While the middle of Eta never reached North Carolina, moisture from the storm fed in ahead of a chilly front and produced as much as 9 inches of rain, which caused flooding issues within the western Piedmont and northern Coastal Plain.

While the rains from Nicole were less intense than Eta’s, they were also broadly useful given our recent dry spell. That made it a timely storm in an unusual time of 12 months.

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