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Eta Strengthens Into a Hurricane Off Southwest Coast of Florida

Published in 11 November, 2020

At a Glance

  • Eta has strengthened back into a hurricane.

  • A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect for Florida’s Gulf Coast.

  • However, Eta is expected to weaken as it nears Florida.

Eta intensified into a hurricane in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Wednesday morning but is expected to be on a weakening trend as it approaches landfall on Florida’s western Gulf Coast on Thursday. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch are now in effect for a portion of Florida’s western Gulf Coast.

Eta is expected to bring heavy rainfall, gusty winds, storm surge and isolated tornadoes to portions of the Florida Peninsula. Below is the latest on what to expect.

(MAPS: Latest Eta Map Tracker Page)

Current Status and Alerts

Eta is centered about 130 miles west-southwest of Fort Myers, Florida, and is moving to the north-northeast. Maximum sustained winds have increased to 75 mph, making Eta a Category 1 hurricane.

Bands of rain and gusty winds from Eta are spreading across parts of the southern and central Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys this morning.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for a part of the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach north to the Suwannee River, including Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Fort Myers, as well as for the Dry Tortugas west of the lower Florida Keys. Tropical storm conditions (39 to 73 mph winds) are expected along this portion of Florida’s western coast later Wednesday into Thursday.

There is also a hurricane watch in effect along Florida’s western coast from Anna Marie Island to Yankeetown. This means hurricane conditions are possible in a part of this area by early Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center noted that Eta is forecast to be weakening on approach to Florida’s Gulf Coast. But the hurricane watch was issued since only a small error in forecast guidance could allow Eta to come ashore as a Category 1 hurricane. That said, there is little difference in the impacts between a strong tropical storm and a minimal Category 1 hurricane.

A storm surge watch has also been issued for the Florida west coast from Bonita Beach to the Steinhatchee River, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. This means there’s potential for inundation from the Gulf within the next 48 hours.

Forecast Track, Intensity

Eta is forecast to track northeast between high pressure near Bermuda and a southward dip in the jet stream moving toward the eastern states.

Its forecast track has trended farther east, with its center now forecast to make landfall near or north of Tampa as soon as Thursday morning or early afternoon. Rain and gusty winds have already arrived well ahead of that eventual landfall.

It’s most likely that Eta will make landfall as a tropical storm. However, it’s not out of the question Eta could hold onto hurricane intensity as it nears Florida’s western coast.

That may sound ominous, but there are factors Eta will face that should keep the storm from undergoing any additional significant strengthening as it nears the Florida Gulf Coast.

Dry air: The Gulf of Mexico is awash in dry air, outside of Eta. Eta is likely to ingest some of that dry air, at times, which will likely put a cap on its ability to intensify too much.

Wind shear: As Eta moves north, it is anticipated to face increasingly hostile wind shear, also an enemy to tropical cyclones.

So, Eta will become more lopsided as it approaches the Florida coast, with most of its thunderstorms – and stronger winds – blown into its eastern half by the aforementioned wind shear.

Eta will quickly weaken once inland over northern Florida on Thursday and then dissipate off the Southeast U.S. coast late this week.

All residents in Florida currently in watches and warnings should monitor the forecast closely for any additional possible changes.

Forecast Impacts

Storm Surge

Eta is forecast to produce a relatively modest, but still hazardous, storm surge along the west coast of Florida from the Everglades to the east side of Apalachee Bay.

Peak storm surge values from the National Hurricane Center are shown in the map below.

Rainfall

Eta may produce the following additional rainfall amounts in Florida through Friday:

-Western Florida: 2 to 4 inches, with isolated totals up to 6 inches.

-South and North Florida: 1 to 2 inches, with isolated totals up to 4 inches in North Florida.

Flash flooding is possible in areas where bands of rain track over the same area for a period of time.

Tropical moisture associated with Eta will also help to enhance rainfall along a cold front moving through the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday.

Winds

Tropical storm conditions are expected in Florida’s Dry Tortugas through Wednesday morning.

Tropical storm conditions are expected in the warning area near the west coast of Florida by late Wednesday into Thursday.

Hurricane conditions are possible in the hurricane watch area by early Thursday.

How strong the winds are in western Florida depends on how strong Eta remains as it tracks closer to the coast. A faster demise of Eta would lessen the wind threat, there.

High Surf

High surf generated by Eta will affect southern and western Florida over the next day or so. There is also a threat of life-threatening rip currents.

Tornadoes

There is also an isolated tornado threat in parts of Florida, which is typical for when a tropical cyclone is approaching.

Parts of west-central and central Florida have the greatest chance of seeing a few tornadoes through Wednesday night.

U.S. Recap

Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys at Lower Matecumbe Key on Sunday night at 11 p.m. EST. Eta was the 12th named storm to make landfall in the U.S. this hurricane season, and the first official landfall for the state of Florida.

Parts of Broward County in South Florida have seen 10 to 18 inches of rainfall from Eta so far, according to the National Weather Service. The heavy rainfall caused road flooding in parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties on Sunday and then again on Monday morning.

Streets and neighborhoods were flooded from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach.

Sunday night, sustained winds of 57 mph with a gust to 72 mph was measured at Carysfort Reef Light in the Florida Keys. A gust to 66 mph was clocked in Fort Lauderdale.

At its peak, 57,000 customers were without power in Florida, according to poweroutage.us.

Central America Rainfall Flood Catastrophe

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

As feared, torrential rain from Eta triggered massive flooding in parts of Central America.

One of the hardest-hit areas was western Honduras.

Flooding inundated Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport near San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Water was up to the rooftops in parts of San Pedro Sula, Thursday. Video showed hundreds of people on rooftops and the second story of buildings waiting for rescue. Some had been trapped for 48 hours.

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.

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 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.

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