Nor’easter to send dangerous swells to South Florida

The harsh winter storm that battered the Northeast on Friday will send a milder — but potentially dangerous — pulse of energy to South Florida this weekend with roiling seas and tugging rip currents.

The National Weather Service in Miami has a small craft advisory in place as swells grow to a potential 15 feet in the Gulfstream, and is warning of beach erosion caused by pounding coastal waves that could reach to 8 feet by Sunday.

“There will be very sour marine conditions over the next few days,” said NWS meteorologist James Thomas. “We’re not looking at showers or rain. It’s mostly the wind that will stir up this trouble.”

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A trailing cold front attached to Friday’s potent nor’easter was expected to move through South Florida overnight pushed by north winds that could gust to 26 mph Saturday at Atlantic beaches. The northern air will keep temperatures in the mid 70s today, with low 70s forecast for daytime highs on Sunday.

Overnights are forecast to dip into the 50s along the coast, and upper 40s inland.

The cooler temperatures will be slightly lower than what’s normal for early March, but Thomas said the beaches are where the cold front’s impacts will be most evident.

“We are anticipating going to double red flags because of strong rip currents and a strong sweep pulling from north to south,” said Craig Pollock, supervisor of lifeguards for the Town of Palm Beach. “The surfers will probably be out in full force.”

Double red flags at the beach mean the water is closed for swimming.

Pollock said a crane will lift lifeguard towers from Midtown beach onto the sidewalk Saturday morning to avoid losing them in the high surf. He’s expecting the biggest waves to be Monday and Tuesday. He estimates the waves could be as high as 10 feet.

“It’s definitely not going to be an event for swimmers or novice surfers,” he said.

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Laurie Schobelock, aquatics division director for Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation, said she is most worried about the northern county beaches that got hit hard by Hurricane Irma in September, and whacked again by January’s cold fronts.

While there are no plans to move the lifeguard towers, she said all of the equipment in them will be removed. She warned that beachgoers should be wary of the water over the next few days.

“We’re kind of thinking Sunday will be the worst,” Shobelock said. “The surfers among the group all have different opinions on when the waves will be best.”

The storm hit areas from the Carolinas through Massachusetts on Friday with damaging winds, flooding storm surge and snow.

The National Weather Service in Boston reported an 83-mph wind gust at East Falmouth, Mass., Friday afternoon. Northeast of there in Marston Mills, a 74-mph wind gust was reported

Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker activated 200 National Guard members to help with the storm.

“We’re expecting to see more severe flooding issues here than we did in the Jan. 4 storm,” when a nor’easter lashed the region with heavy snow and rain, he said.

As of 3 p.m. Friday, more than 117,000 customers of four power companies in Massachusetts were without electricity, according the state’s emergency management office.

More than 2,100 flights were canceled by airlines, most spread across airports in the Northeast. An American Airlines spokesman says the company has canceled 18 percent of its flights in the northeast, with Boston’s Logan Airport and Reagan Washington National Airport the hardest hit, according to an Associated Press report.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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