Hurricane Florence rolled softly into Palm Beach County Thursday on a mirror-smooth swell that promised grandeur.
High surf advisories, rip current statements and small craft cautions were issued for areas from the Treasure Cost through Palm Beach with forecasters warning late Thursday into Friday will show more of Florence’s fading might.
The hurricane, which was predicted to make landfall near the border between North Carolina and South Carolina overnight, was a Category 2 storm as of Thursday afternoon. It threatens devastating winds, torrential rains and deadly storm surge deep into the Neuse and Pamlico rivers.
But the duality of hurricanes is the high winds that wreak destruction in one place can be a gift to another, and Florida surfers were eager this week for that present to arrive.
Dozens of surfers crowded the north and south side of the Juno Beach Pier pre-dawn Thursday for glassy bumps that broke about waist high and higher on the sets. The Jupiter Surf Report called the scene a “mad house of surfers struggling to beat out the others and be the one that gets up first.”
“I thought today would be the day, but it’s just not producing what people thought,” said Boynton Beach resident Holli Pisarski, who was surfing at the pier Thursday morning. “It’s always a waiting game. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The National Weather Service in Miami predicted the long-period swell sent by Florence would lift offshore wave heights in Palm Beach County to between 6 and 9 feet.
That can mean waves breaking 7 to 8 feet at the beach, said Robert Molleda, the NWS warning coordination meteorologist in Miami.
“It can definitely be overhead,” said Molleda, who was expecting the highest swell to arrive Thursday afternoon into today.
The Melbourne office of the National Weather Service forecast “large and battering waves” with a “very hazardous surf zone” and wave heights to 8 feet. North Florida’s weather concerns included all of the above, and a coastal flood advisory.
“Over land, we’re good, but not over the water,” said Matt Vibura, a meteorologist with the NWS in Jacksonville.
With 12 to 13 seconds between waves, some lifeguards feared people would be caught off guard by a set, but with no wind whipping the surf, flags flew yellow — medium hazard — at high tide Thursday in Juno.
Oscar Miroquesada, of West Palm Beach, surfed at the Juno Pier but started his day checking the waves at Jensen Beach.
He said they were big, but closing out, meaning the wave crashed all at once instead of leaving a face ahead of the whitewater to ride.
“Here, it doesn’t seem like the impact of Florence has rippled down yet,” Miroquesada said, noting that today may be bigger. “All the models are pointing in that direction.”
For fisherman, Florence’s swell could bring more bait fish toward the coast and hasten the much-anticipated fall mullet run.
“Along with the mullet, it will bring the snook and tarpon that follow them,” said Tommy Schulz, co-owner of fishing headquarters. “It can stir up the bottom. The crabs get turned up and the snappers all move in to eat the crabs. It kind of resets everything.”
Whether the universe aligns today for the surfers — work schedules, tides, wave heights and winds — is anybody’s guess.
Pisarski said she’s been checking wave forecast sites for a week, hoping the hype would hold true.
“At least it’s something,” she said Thursday, taking a break between sessions. “So you got to be happy about that.”