Tropical Storm Eta, the 28th named storm of this year’s busy hurricane season, has strengthened and is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rain, and a dangerous storm surge to the Florida Keys and southern Florida by Sunday night, the National Hurricane Center said.
Eta devastated parts of Central America, where it started as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday, leaving more than 50 people dead in its wake before weakening to a tropical depression. The storm passed over the Cayman Islands and northwestern Bahamas on Saturday and made landfall early Sunday morning on Cuba’s south-central coast.
According to a National Hurricane Center advisory released Sunday morning, it is expected to bring tropical storm conditions, including heavy rains and dangerous flooding, as the Florida Keys and south Florida approach.
The storm could reach hurricane strength by the time it hits Florida, the center said.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach, and for the Florida Keys, from Ocean Reef to Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for southern Florida from Brevard County and Volusia to Englewood, including Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee.
Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm has spread since it hit Central America. Eta’s zigzag path, led by high and low pressure systems, was not uncommon for storms that form later in the season, he said.
Forecasters predict six to 12 inches of rain, with isolated 18-inch instances possible, in parts of southern and central Florida. Tropical storm force winds are expected to arrive in Florida on Sunday evening.
“We had heavy rains on the ground here in October, so the ground is already quite saturated,” Feltgen said. “We are looking at the potential for a lot of urban flooding here.”
On Sunday morning, the storm was 60 miles southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and 280 miles southeast of Miami. It was moving northeast at about 12 miles per hour with wind speeds of 60 mph, according to the advisory.
“We always say it’s not just a tropical storm,” said Feltgen. “You can have very serious impacts from a tropical storm. It is a very important and very serious rain event. “
Eta made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, devastating parts of Central America with winds of up to 140 km / h and heavy rains that reached 35 inches in some areas.
Floods and landslides have contributed to at least 57 deaths in Guatemala, the country’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, said at a press conference on Thursday. A landslide has buried 25 homes, dozens of which are trapped inside, according to the Associated Press.
Two minors were killed in landslides in Nicaragua, the AP reported. In Honduras, a 12-year-old girl was killed when she was trapped in a mudslide.
The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved over mountainous terrain, Mr Feltgen said, but on Saturday it had reverted to a tropical storm.
With Eta, the unusually busy 2020 season tied the record for 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.