After bringing deadly rains and flooding to parts of Central America, Eta appeared on Thursday to be on his way to southern Florida, where the storm was expected to arrive early next week.
Eta, which made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but is expected to strengthen again as it passes through the northwestern Caribbean Sea later this week.
The intensity and final track of the storm remained uncertain, but it was predicted that it will bring 15 to 20 inches of rain to Cuba, the Cayman Islands and southern Florida. The National Hurricane Center model indicated that Eta would arrive in the Florida Keys early Tuesday morning.
“Right now, the biggest problem with Eta is the horrible rains, which continue over Central America,” said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Two miners were killed in landslides in Nicaragua, according to the Associated Press. In Honduras, a 12-year-old girl was killed when she was trapped in a mudslide.
Eta’s route was reminiscent of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 11,000 people, mainly in Honduras and Nicaragua, in 1998. Heavy rains, exacerbated by Mitch’s slow march through the region caused devastating floods and landslides.
On Thursday, Eta remained on land in Central America, about 80 miles southwest of La Ceiba, a town on the northern coast of Honduras. It was expected to make a slow trek over the Caribbean on Friday before landing in Cuba on Sunday.
It continued to pose devastating threats to parts of Nicaragua and Honduras, where it is expected to drop an additional 15 to 20 inches of rain.
This would “bring a maximum isolated total of 40 inches of rain,” Feltgen said.
“At this point you are measuring in feet, not inches,” he says. “These are catastrophic and potentially fatal floods.”
Eta could be over the Strait of Florida on Monday, Mr Feltgen said, stressing his path remains uncertain.
Mr. Feltgen warned residents of Cuba, the Cayman Islands and southern Florida to keep abreast of Eta’s path.
“We’re looking at potentially significant rainfall in South Florida and it’s already saturated soil,” he said. “We are therefore considering a potentially floodable situation in South Florida.”
Eta is the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began in June and ends on November 30.
In Eta’s formation, the 2020 season tied a record set in 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 in 2005. It named 27 storms that year and only later identified a qualifying subtropical storm that formed briefly in October near the Azores, an archipelago. secluded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
This year hurricanes and tropical storms hit the Gulf Coast, where cities recovered from one storm only to be hit by another a week later.
Hurricane Laura hit Lake Charles, Louisiana at the end of August, and in October Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana less than 20 miles east of where Laura had struck, hitting the area as she still tried to recover.
In late October, Hurricane Zeta hit the Louisiana coast with heavy rains and strong winds. This storm has been blamed for six deaths in the South and widespread power outages in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas.
Kirk Semple, Austin Ramzy and Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.