Tropical Storm Eta struck the Caribbean on Sunday, gaining momentum as it headed north, becoming the 28th named storm of the hurricane season.
Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center expect the storm to turn into a hurricane as it approaches the Central American coast early Tuesday. Hurricane watches were issued in parts of Nicaragua and Honduras, where the center said there could be risks of storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rain.
The storm is expected to bring up to 15 inches of rain across Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the southern coast of Hispaniola. Eta could also drop up to 30 inches of rain in northern Honduras and northern Nicaragua, which could lead to potentially fatal flooding and landslides.
With Eta, the very active 2020 season tied the record for the most storms with 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit the Gulf Coast. That year, so many storms got strong enough to be named that meteorologists had to resort to the Greek alphabet after exhausting the list of rotating names maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
However, the agency never made it to Eta, as this year’s 28th storm was not identified until the end of the season and remained unnamed. This last storm in 2005 was a subtropical storm that briefly formed in October near the Azores, an isolated archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“This is the first time that Eta will be used in real time,” said Phil Klotzbach, a researcher in the department of atmospheric sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
With the 2020 season not ending until November 30, it is very likely that the 2005 record for most named storms will be broken, he said.
“The odds are certainly favorable for another storm or two forming in November,” he said. “The large-scale environment, especially in the Caribbean, is expected to remain more conducive than normal at this end of the hurricane season.”
Eta tracked Hurricane Zeta, which landed on Oct. 28 in Louisiana as a Category 2 storm. It killed at least six people in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The hurricanes of 2020 did not match the intensity of the storms of 2005. In that year, eight storms became major hurricanes, which are defined as hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.
But the effects of the 2020 season in the South have been widespread.
Hurricane Laura hit Lake Charles, Louisiana in late August; Hurricane Sally hit the Florida Panhandle with a deluge of rain in September; and in October, Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana less than 20 miles east of where Laura struck, hitting the area as she was still trying to recover.
Hurricane Zeta hit the Louisiana coast with heavy rains and powerful winds, which caused widespread blackouts in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas.
Government scientists had predicted an unusually busy hurricane season, which officially began on June 1.
They highlighted factors such as above-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, a strong monsoon season in Africa, and reduced vertical wind shear, which means less variability in the weather. wind at different altitudes that can disrupt the formation of storms.
But the number of named storms has even exceeded the National Hurricane Center’s initial forecast.
“Records are made to be broken,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesperson and meteorologist for downtown Miami. “But that’s not the one I want to break.”
Henry Fountain, Christina Morales and Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.