JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 9, 2022)–Bravo Zulu is an often-used Navy phrase that means “Good Job” or “Well Done.” As Hurricane Nicole makes its way toward Florida’s east coast, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District South Florida Operations team prepares for a possible tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane and is securing facilities, providing information to boaters and campers on operational adjustments to navigation, recreation, and Lake Okeechobee operations to keep them safe.
“The South Florida Operations team has done a lot of work in a short period of time to prepare for Hurricane Nicole,” said Tammy Cleveland, Deputy Chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston, Florida.
Hurricane watches on Florida’s east coast were upgraded to warnings on Tuesday for most of the coast, except Broward and Miami-Dade, which remained under a hurricane watch and tropical storm watch.
“As the storm approached, Our operators safely locked 222 vessels during 59 lockages for safe harbor passages in just two days in advance of the storm,” said DJ Hazebrook, the lockmaster at Canaveral Lock." “Because of the wide path of the storm, the winds were a lot higher than usual, averaging 15 to 25 knots, making lockages even more challenging. The team did a great job of guiding a lot of vessels safely through the lock during very challenging conditions.”
Hazebrook said the Canaveral Lock has been locked down and secured until after the storm passes and it will reopen once teams are able to do inspections, and make sure that all of the equipment is up and running properl. Then, the Captain of the Port will determine when the port reopens.
Storm surge predictions get higher farther up the coast, with 2 to 4 feet expected in coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties, and 3 to 5 feet of surge expected from north of Palm Beach County to Jacksonville. Some beach areas have started to eroded due to high winds and waves.
“Bravo Zulu to the team, who did an outstanding job of getting vessels of every size and description through the lock safely and efficiently,” said Hazebrook. “We locked through tugs, barges, the entire shrimping fleet, work flats, fishing boats, U.S. Space Force vessels, Coast Guard vessels, Space X vessel Megan and many others -you name it, we locked it through.”
The Jacksonville District activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Nov. 7.
“We are coordinating closely with Federal agencies, state, local, and tribal government officials in Florida to support local residents and prepare for the impacts of Tropical Storm Nicole on the state, our facilities, and projects,” said Col. James Booth, commander of the Jacksonville District. “We urge residents to pay attention to the news and follow any county evacuation orders that are issued immediately.”
Canaveral Lock is the only lock currently closed and teams are monitoring conditions at the other five locks along the Okeechobee Waterway and have extended operating hours to get vessels to safe harbor. At the St. Lucie Lock and Dam in Stuart, which has a 14 foot lift, they have locked through 96 vessels in 25 lockages.
“Team members at St. Lucie Lock and Dam will remain on site to monitor and adjust water levels in the St. Lucie or C-44 Canal during the storm,” said Cleveland. “The storm is expected to make landfall near Stuart bring rain at the same time that they will be experiencing Super King Tide and storm surge conditions. The situation makes managing water very challenging.”
Jacksonville District is issuing the following guidance on its operations in south Florida:
The Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) was inspected following Hurricane Ian, and USACE operations staff are checking all structures and the dike in advance of Tropical Storm Nicole. HHD is safer today than it has ever been going into a storm. Construction on the dike is 97% complete, all culvert replacements and removals are done, and the cutoff wall construction is 99% complete.
USACE plans no pre-storm releases from Lake Okeechobee. Following standard operating procedures, operations teams will close all USACE structures on the lake during the storm to maintain the integrity of HHD. The St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80) will be opened as needed for flood control and navigation on the C-44 canal.
USACE does not have a current estimate of how much lake rise can be anticipated by this storm, but with the lake already at nearly 16 feet, the potential exists that high-volume releases will be needed following the storm.
Navigation locks on the Okeechobee Waterway will operate for extended hours while it is safe to do so. Beginning Nov 8, 2022, the locks will operate from 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., with the last lockage at 9:30 p.m. The Canaveral Lock will be open for normal hours, 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with the last lockage starting at 9 p.m. For the safety of the lock operators, the USACE will suspend operations when lightning is in the area or when winds reach 35 miles per hour. We will update Notices to Navigation on our website and notify the public through our social media platforms.
Park rangers are monitoring conditions at USACE campgrounds and recreation areas. Currently the recreation facilities at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam are closed after suffering damage from Hurricane Ian. All other campgrounds and recreation facilities managed by the Corps of Engineers in Florida are still open. If a county government issues an evacuation order for mobile homes or RV parks in an area where there is a Corps’ campground or recreational facility, rangers will order an evacuation of the facility and advise on shelter locations. Visitors should move all campers, motor homes, tents, vessels, and trailers from facilities under evacuation orders. Campers will receive refunds for any cancelled camping reservations through the reservation system contractor. For more information on refunds, guests can go to www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777.
Survey vessels and crews are prepositioning near deep draft ports in Florida to provide immediate harbor surveys, if required, once the storm has passed. USACE works closely with our partners in the U.S. Coast Guard and various port authorities to ensure a quick return to normal port traffic.
Coastal engineers will inspect Coastal Storm Risk Management projects as soon as it is safe to do so following the storm. Post storm inspections will be used to determine if any additional steps are necessary as a result of storm damage. The beach projects are specifically designed to help protect infrastructure from storms like Tropical Storm Nicole. USACE can also inspect non-federal beaches for damage if given a mission assignment to do so by FEMA through the state EOC.
Army Corps of Engineers Spokesperson Jim Yocum said teams are paying close attention to the forecast and currently doesn’t expect Nicole’s rains to overtop the dike surrounding the lake and protecting nearby residents.
“The Dike was inspected after Hurricane Ian and based on the most recent forecasts, our analysis indicates no risk of over wash for the common inundation zones around the Herbert Hoover Dike, the staff has checked structures,” she said.
“It’s been ‘all-hands on deck’ since we started preparing for Nicole’s arrival. Everyone has been doing a great job,” said Cleveland.
Information for boaters, campers, those living near Lake Okeechobee, the Herbert Hoover Dike, and the Northern Estuaries will be updated regularly on the USACE website at https://saj.usace.army.mil/Nicole. You can also follow on Twitter @JaxStrong or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict.