Eta May Approach South Florida This Weekend; Catastrophic Flood Threat Continues in Central America

Published in 4 November, 2020

At a Glance

  • Eta is weakening as it tracks over Central America.

  • The system may approach Florida with rain, wind and high surf this weekend.

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

Tropical Storm Eta could approach South Florida this weekend after bringing a threat of potentially catastrophic flooding rainfall to Central America over the next few days.

Eta will continue to weaken as it moves over the mountainous terrain of Central America into Thursday. Catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding could occur in some parts of Central America, according to the NHC. Landslides are possible in areas with mountainous terrain.

Eta could eventually 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 tropical 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 late this week. 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.

That takes us to what we don’t know yet about Eta’s long-term future, and that could hinge on how Eta interacts with the upper-level low.

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 as soon as this weekend.

After that happens, an upper-level high-pressure system over the eastern states could take over as Eta’s steering wheel. The clockwise flow around this building high could turn Eta in a westerly direction toward the eastern Gulf of Mexico for a time.

What happens after that point is uncertain, but there is a chance that Eta could make a final landfall somewhere along the eastern Gulf Coast later next week.

No matter what eventually happens, parts of the Florida Peninsula could at least 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 in the eastern U.S. and Eta’s lower pressure in the Caribbean should contribute to gusty winds blowing onshore along Florida’s East Coast from the second half of this week into the weekend and early 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.

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. Think of this just as an early heads up. There is nothing to be overly concerned about at this time since there are so many forecast details that need to be ironed out.

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:

-10 to 20 inches of additional rainfall in much of Nicaragua and Honduras, with locally up to 40 inches in northeast Nicaragua and eastern Honduras

-15 to 25 inches, with locally up to 30 inches in eastern Guatemala and Belize

-10 to 15 inches, with locally up to 25 inches in parts of Panama and Costa Rica

-5 to 10 inches, with locally up to 15 inches in southern areas of southeast Mexico and El Salvador

Parts of Jamaica, southern Haiti and the Cayman Islands could also see heavy rainfall and flooding from Eta.

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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