MIAMI -- Nicole has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane and has sustained winds of 75 mph, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm is 25 miles east-northeast of Freeport, Bahamas, and 105 miles to the east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Nicole continues to track westward at 12 mph toward Florida's east coast with an expected landfall after midnight, according to CNN meteorologists.
[Previous story, published at 5:27 p.m. ET]
Tropical Storm Nicole is lashing the northwestern Bahamas on its way to eastern Florida, where it is expected to strike as a hurricane by early Thursday and deliver heavy rain, damaging winds and possibly tornadoes to some places still recovering from Hurricane Ian.
Nicole is bringing a dangerous storm surge and strong winds to Grand Bahama Island, the US National Hurricane Center said in its 4 p.m. ET update.
Nicole's center, with sustained 70 mph winds, just 4 mph shy of hurricane strength, passed over the Bahamas' Great Abaco island early Wednesday afternoon and then Grand Bahama and it's more than 50,000 residents.
Nicole eventually is expected to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday on its way to Florida, where it could make landfall on the southeastern or east-central Florida coast overnight, according to the hurricane center.
Forecasters added that people affected by the storm should not focus on the exact track of the storm center because Nicole is a large storm with "hazards extending well to the north" of the projected path.
"Outer bands from Nicole have already started impacting east central FL," the National Weather Service office in Melbourne, Florida, said in a 3:30 tweet. "Conditions, especially along the coast, are dangerous. Waters will begin rising yet again this afternoon as high tide arrives around 8:20 to 8:30 PM. STAY AWAY FROM THE BEACHES."
Nicole would be the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States in November in nearly 40 years. More than 5.3 million people along Florida's east coast are under hurricane warnings and 4.1 million are under a hurricane watch.
Tropical-storm force winds (39 to 73 mph) already were hitting parts of the eastern Florida coastline Wednesday morning, the hurricane center said, as was flooding. Ankle-deep water was collecting in parts of Boynton Beach north of Boca Raton, pictures posted by police on Facebook show.
Some drivers also were navigating through ankle-deep floodwater on streets in West Palm Beach on Wednesday morning, video from CNN affiliate WPEC shows.
After Florida landfall, Nicole is expected to weaken while moving across the southeastern US on Thursday and Friday. Yet it's still a threat to bring flooding and damage to Florida, which is reeling since Ian struck in September along the west coast, then raked damage across the state, killing at least 120 people in the state and leveling neighborhoods.
Besides damaging winds, Nicole is forecast to deliver:
Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 485 miles from Nicole's center, the hurricane center said. The enormous wind field -- wider than that of stronger Ian on its Florida approach -- means nearly the whole state will feel winds of 39 mph or greater from Nicole.
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The video in the player above is from an earlier report.