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Eta Expected to Track Toward South Florida; Life-Threatening Flooding Continues In Central America

Published in 5 November, 2020

At a Glance

  • Eta has weakened to a tropical depression over Central America.

  • The system is expected to approach Florida with rain, wind and high surf early next week.

  • Until then, life-threatening inland flooding will persist for days in Central America.

Eta is expected to restrength over the Caribbean Sea this weekend and could approach South Florida early next week after bringing flooding rainfall to Central America over the next few days.

Eta has become very disorganized due to its interaction with the mountainous terrain of Central America. Catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding could occur in some parts of Central America through this weekend, according to the NHC. Landslides are possible in areas with mountainous terrain.

Eta could dissipate for a time as it tracks farther inland through Central America, but that doesn’t mean the forecast for this system comes to an end.

The remnant spin and energy from Eta are expected to emerge over the northwest Caribbean Sea on Friday. That’s when Eta could reorganize into a depression or storm, as depicted in the latest forecast above from the National Hurricane Center.

Eta will be steered northeastward initially once it moves back over the northwest Caribbean beginning Friday. That’s because Eta will be pushed in that direction by the interaction with the counterclockwise flow around an upper-level low-pressure system located in the Gulf of Mexico, as seen in the graphic below.

Eta is expected to interact or even combine with the upper low by this weekend. That could allow Eta to be pulled northward to just south of or even over the southern Florida Peninsula as a tropical or subtropical storm by early next week.

(MORE: What is a Subtropical Storm?)

Eta could then be pulled westward into the eastern Gulf of Mexico by both that same upper low diving southward in the Gulf and an upper-level high-pressure system over the eastern states.

Assuming Eta does get pulled back over the eastern Gulf, instead of simply crawling north across the Florida Peninsula, it would then make a final landfall likely somewhere along Florida’s Gulf Coast later next week, as it finally accelerates ahead of an approaching frontal system.

No matter what eventually happens, parts of the Florida Peninsula are expected to see some bands of heavy rain associated with Eta’s moisture as soon as this weekend that could lead to local flash flooding.

Furthermore, the gradient between high pressure near the eastern U.S. and Eta’s lower pressure will generate gusty winds blowing onshore along Florida’s East Coast into next week.

That will allow high surf and dangerous rip currents to increase from Florida’s East Coast to possibly as far north as South Carolina, peaking by early next week. Coastal flooding is likely in some of these areas, particularly at high tide.

The bottom line is that interests in the northwest Caribbean, Florida, and even parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast, should monitor the progress of Eta and its forecast.

Check back to weather.com for updates as the forecast becomes more clear over the next few days.

Central America Rainfall Flood Threat
As mentioned earlier, Eta remains a dangerous flood threat for Central America over the next few days. Here’s the latest rainfall forecast, as predicted by the National Hurricane Center.

Here are where the heaviest rainfall totals are predicted by NHC in Central America and the Caribbean:

-Additional 10 to 15 inches of additional rainfall in portions of Central America, with locally up to 40 inches in eastern Honduras and eastern Nicaragua

-10 to 20 inches, with locally up to 30 inches in the Cayman Islands into portions of Cuba

-5 to 10 inches, with locally up to 20 inches in southeastern Mexico

-3 to 5 inches of additional rainfall, with locally up to 15 inches in Jamaica

Eta’s Storm History
Eta is the 28th storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which ties the 2005 season for the most storms on record. It’s also the 12th hurricane of the season, which ties for the second-most on record for a year in the Atlantic.

Maximum sustained winds in Eta increased from 70 mph to 150 mph in just 18 hours ending 7 p.m. EST Monday. That’s more than double the criteria for the rapid intensification of a tropical cyclone, which is a wind speed increase of 35 mph or more in 24 hours or less.

At its peak late Monday and early Tuesday, Eta was the third strongest November hurricane on record in the Atlantic by wind speed and just the fifth Atlantic Category 4 or higher hurricane to occur in the month. Paloma in 2008 was the last November Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic.

Eta was the ninth storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to undergo rapid intensification.

Eta’s central pressure plunged 82 millibars in 48 hours ending 1 a.m. ET Nov. 3, one of the largest 48-hour pressure drops on record in the Atlantic Basin, according to Sam Lillo, a NOAA researcher based in Boulder. Only hurricanes Andrew, Rita and Wilma had as large or larger pressure drops in a 48-hour period than Eta, Lillo found.

The small hurricane produced prolific lightning flashes in its eyewall Monday afternoon, one sign of its intensity.

Eta’s eye arrived along the coast of Nicaragua about 15 miles south-southwest of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua around 4 p.m. EST Tuesday. At that time, maximum sustained winds were estimated at 140 mph, a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Eta was only the fifth Category 4 or stronger hurricane on record to landfall in Nicaragua, the first since Category 5 Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Winds had gusted up to 136 mph near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, Tuesday afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasted a destructive storm surge inundation of 14 to 21 feet above normal tide levels near where Eta made landfall. This is roughly the magnitude of storm surge experienced during Category 5 Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Nicaragua and Honduras have seen roofs ripped off of homes, trees uprooted, bridges washed out, landslides and flooded roads.

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