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Inland Florida counties evade major flooding from Tropical Storm Nicole

Downed tree road closure Hardee County Tropical Storm Nicole
Courtesy of Florida Public Emergency Network
Tropical Storm Nicole crossed Florida's peninsula on Thursday.

Areas along the Peace River, which flows from Polk to Charlotte counties, were largely spared from a major rain or flooding event on Thursday.

Tropical Storm Nicole spat more rain on inland Florida counties just weeks after Hurricane Ian triggered record-breaking flooding along the Peace River.

On Thursday, officials in Polk and Hardee counties say the region was spared from another major flooding event.

"Our biggest concern was flood," Paul Womble, emergency management director in Polk County, said.

He said the county had experienced significant rainfall before Hurricane Ian dumped around ten inches of rain and left some homes flooded near the Peace River and Bartow area.

That water had receded to normal levels in recent weeks. Ahead of Tropical Storm Nicole, Womble said the county's emergency response team was wary of more significant rain.

In preparations, Womble said his team was advised by the National Weather Service that rainfall from Nicole would have to measure more than a foot to prompt flooding conditions similar to what the county experienced during Ian.

"Luckily, the forecasts and the way it played out was not even double digits," he said.

Womble likened the storm's impact to a typical "summer afternoon severe thunderstorm" with some power outages, downed trees and standing water in streets.

By late Thursday morning, Womble said that Polk County was reporting up to three inches of rainfall in some areas and stable river levels of around 7 feet. The region also experienced strong wind with the highest gust reported at 63 miles per hour near Bartow.

The Peace River originates in Polk County, near Bartow, and flows south through Hardee and DeSoto counties to Charlotte Harbor.

Hardee County spokesperson Alicia Woodard reported river levels at midday Thursday at just over 11 feet. They were anticipated to swell to 14.9 feet, which is considered below a minor flood stage by the National Weather Service.

"Overall, we haven't seen excessive flooding like we did with Ian," she said.

Although, the county is still recovering from Ian.

It's been more than forty days since the hurricane's slow forward motion across Florida's inland counties. Woodard said at least six roads and one major bridge have remained closed due to hurricane damage.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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