The forecast for Ocala/Marion County as Tropical Storm Nicole approaches includes wind, rain and possible tornado threats, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
Meteorologist Ben Nelson said the center of Nicole should hover over the Bahamas some time Wednesday afternoon. As the storm makes its way to Florida, Nelson said, the outer bands will bring some wind and rain to Ocala/Marion County.
Nelson said showers, which will be heavy at times, will continue in the area throughout Wednesday night. Then, around midnight, there will be some developing tornado threats as the wind speeds increase.
Get ready:After making landfall in the Bahamas, Nicole will likely hit Florida as a hurricane
The weatherman said by late morning to early Thursday afternoon, the area should experience sustained winds anywhere from 40 mph to 60 mph. Rainfall should be 3 inches to 6 inches, he said.
The wind speed should decrease to about 25 mph by late Thursday evening. The weatherman said from late Thursday night to early Friday morning, the heavy winds and rains should disappear, marking a dramatic improvement.
Marion residents prepare with sandbags
Marion had three sandbag locations open Wednesday. The sites in Belleview and Ocala had county and city employees assisting residents. At the Dunnellon site, it was self-serve.
At the Belleview Sports Complex, Craig Deritter was filling his allotted 10 sandbags.
Deritter, who lives in a mobile home on 5 acres not far away, said whenever there's heavy rain, he has to pay attention so the water doesn't go underneath the door.
The retiree said last month, when Hurricane Ian came to the state, there were so many people at the sports complex filling bags "it looked like ants," he said with a laugh.
Another Belleview resident, Kim Wynn, said she came to the site to fill sandbags to protect her home.
"The bags will be on the roof to hold the tarp," she said. Wynn said her roof leaked after the passage of Hurricane Ian.
According to the county's park and recreation officials at the sports complex, they gave 90 sandbags to those who wanted them. They had 9,000 sandbags on hand at the location.
During Hurricane Ian, parks and recreation officials said they handed out 13,000 sandbags in two days.
Miles away, at Tuscawilla Park, Sarah Collison said she wanted the sandbags for the shed in her backyard.
The Ocala resident said with Hurricane Ian, she had sandbags. But, with Nicole coming, she wanted more to put around the shed.
"I'm back again because my shed floods in the backyard," she said.
Collison said she's "not worried" about Nicole because, as a native Floridian, she realizes that "we're going to get rain." She said at least the grass will "be great this weekend."
"I'm not worried. I lived through Hurricane Andrew," she said.
Emmariah Martin said she wasn't in Ocala when Hurricane Ian hit the state. She said she was in Leesburg, where some places flooded.
Martin said she came for sandbags because the Ocala residence where she's presently living is in a low-lying area.
City officials said they had 5,000 sand bags on site.
In Dunnellon, Rainbow Lakes Estate resident Bob Huya said he needs the sandbags to keep the water from entering his garage.
Huya said with the rain forecast for the area, he thinks 10 bags should be sufficient to protect the garage.
Huya said he has done some preparations like trimming the trees and hauling away debris such as tree limbs to the dump.
Federal, state and local declarations
In response to Tropical Storm Nicole, President Biden on Wednesday approved federal emergency aid to 45 Florida counties, including Marion, along with the Miccosukee Tribe and Seminole Tribe.
The presidential action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. The counties approved for emergency aid are:
Alachua, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Desoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Jefferson, Lake, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter, Taylor, Volusia and Wakulla counties and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Thomas J. McCool was named the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal response operations in the affected areas.
At the state level, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday included Marion among the counties under a state of emergency declaration.
At a 1 p.m. meeting Wednesday, the Marion County Commission declared a local state of emergency.
"With the inclusion of Marion County in the declaration of a state of emergency, residents are now protected by the state’s price gouging law. Residents who suspect price gouging can report it to the Attorney General’s hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM," county government wrote in a news release.
City of Dunnellon officials said the sandbag location will close on Wednesday and won't re-open. A workshop scheduled for Wednesday afternoon is still on, and City Hall will be open on Thursday.
Belleview city officials said City Hall will be closed on Thursday. Ocala city officials said City Hall will be closed on Thursday and Friday. There will be no garbage collection on Thursday. Pickup will resume Friday. There will be no SunTran bus service on Thursday, but will return on Friday.
Schools will be closed Thursday; info line remains open
Schools will be closed Thursday, as will the College of Central Florida.
Many events have been canceled or postponed. For example, the 10th annual Paychecks for Patriots Job Fair, scheduled for Thursday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Marion County Public Library headquarters in Ocala.
All CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion offices will be closed Thursday because of the storm and closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day.
Marion County's Citizen Hotline (352-369-7500) will be open Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursday from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m.
A special-needs shelter opened at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the MCSO Multipurpose Room, 3300 NW 10th St., Ocala.
Gannett Florida's Sergio Bustos contributed to this report. Contact Austin L. Miller at email@example.com.