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Hurricane Eta Nearing Landfall in Nicaragua; Catastrophic Impacts Expected in Central America

Published in 3 November, 2020

At a Glance

  • Eta is nearing landfall in northern Nicaragua.

  • Life-threatening flooding, destructive winds and storm surge are all threats.

  • There is large uncertainty for what happens with Eta after it impacts Central America.

Hurricane Eta is nearing landfall in northern Nicaragua, where it will bring devastating winds, feet of storm surge and flooding rainfall today. Potentially catastrophic, life-threatening flooding rainfall will then last for days in much of Central America after Eta moves inland.

Eta is the third strongest November hurricane on record in the Atlantic 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.

Forecast
Eta is centered near the northern coast of Nicaragua, where it should make landfall soon.

Catastrophic wind damage is likely where the eyewall meets the coast on Tuesday in the hurricane warning area of northern Nicaragua. Wind damage will also occur to some degree inland of Eta’s landfall location.

There will be a destructive storm surge near and just north of where Eta crosses the coast. Parts of northern Nicaragua could see an inundation of 14 to 21 feet above normal tide levels.

The city of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, could be affected by both significant storm surge and destructive winds. Winds had gusted up to 103 mph at the Puerto Cabezas airport as of early Tuesday.

The most widespread threat will be heavy rainfall that will last for days well inland across Central America as Eta or its remnants move slowly west-northwest.

Catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding could occur in some parts of Central America, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Landslides are possible in areas with mountainous terrain.

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

-15 to 25 inches, with locally up to 35 inches in much of Nicaragua and Honduras

-10 to 20 inches, with locally up to 25 inches in eastern Guatemala and Belize

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

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

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

Northwest Caribbean Reformation Threat
Eta or its remnants will track slowly across Central America through Friday, however, its long-term forecast beyond that time is highly uncertain.

One possible forecast scenario is that Eta will simply dissipate as it spreads heavy rainfall over Central America.

However, there is increasing computer model forecast guidance that shows Eta’s spin and energy moving back over the northwestern Caribbean. That could lead to a reorganizing Eta or a new system forming over the northwest Caribbean by this weekend.

Beyond that, it is too soon to determine if, when and where this system may eventually track.

Check back to weather.com for updates over the next several days on this possibility and what it might mean for any other land areas in the long-term future. That could include Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Florida and the Gulf Coast.

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.

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

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