A Tropical Storm Warning is up for South Florida, the Florida Keys, the Cayman Islands, and portions of the Bahamas and Cuba as a strengthening Tropical Storm Eta heads east-northeast across the western Caribbean.
At 10 a.m. EST Saturday, November 7, Eta was a tropical storm with 50 mph winds and a central pressure of 996 mb, speeding east-northeast at 17 mph. Satellite images and Cayman Islands radar showed that Eta had become much more organized, with a solid area of heavy thunderstorms and increased low-level spiral bands that were growing more organized. Data from an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft late Saturday morning showed surface winds in the storm ramping up. Eta brought sustained winds of 40 mph and heavy rain to Grand Cayman Island on Saturday morning.
Forecast for Eta
A trough of low pressure to its west will continue steering Eta to the northeast through Sunday, resulting in a landfall on the central coast of Cuba on Saturday night or Sunday morning. On Sunday, the southern end of the upper-level trough will be detaching from the jet stream over the eastern Gulf, and Eta and the trough will be merging or rotating around each other on Sunday and Monday, leading Eta to move northwest or west-northwest. Interaction with the trough could give Eta a brief shot of upper-level support and lead to some intensification over the warm waters of the Florida Straits. The interaction may also foster the intrusion of dry air into the west side of Eta, making it take on subtropical characteristics, and limiting its potential to intensify into a hurricane.
Steering currents will be weak once Eta merges with the upper level trough, and it’s not yet clear whether Eta’s long-range path might end up closer to the west coast of Florida, as suggested by the GFS model, or further offshore, as in the European model. Eventually – maybe not until late next week – the approach of a new upper-level trough will likely push Eta back toward the Florida Gulf Coast.
The main threat from Eta: Torrential rains and floods
Regardless of whether or not Eta makes landfall in Florida, the storm will bring heavy rains and strong winds well to the east of its center, resulting in several days of squally weather and locally torrential rain for South Florida. Rainfall of 5-10″, with some totals up to 15″, could fall in the coastal cities of South Florida from Fort Myers and Naples to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where soils are largely saturated from late-October rains. A flood watch is in effect from Friday night into Tuesday over metro areas of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Tornadoes will also be possible in Eta’s rainbands.
A catastrophe in Central America
Dozens of people died in Central America, and dozens more remained missing on Saturday from destructive floods and mudslides from Eta, which made landfall in northeastern Nicaragua on November 3 as a category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds. The death toll remained uncertain, as rescuers were challenged to reach some of the hardest-hit locations.
Some of the worst damage from Eta occurred on Wednesday and Thursday as the storm weakened to depression status and its rains shifted northwest into Guatemala, where thousands were reported marooned on Saturday.
More than 150 people were dead or missing across Guatemala in the wake of Eta, AFP, the French wire service, reported on Friday. Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said that a preliminary survey found 100 people killed and 150 homes buried in a mudslide that inundated the village of Queja in the San Cristobal Verapraz area. More than 1,000 homes were damaged across Guatemala, according to a report from the news agency EFE. Eta’s floods and landslides have also led to at least 13 deaths in Honduras and two in Nicaragua, with eight people missing in Panama, according to AP and the Weather Channel.
With the death toll relatively low so far in Honduras, when compared to similar slow-moving hurricanes like Mitch of 1998 and Fifi of 1974 which killed over 8,000 people each, Eta left behind catastrophic devastation in Honduras, a nation with few resources. Seven-day rainfall estimates from NOAA indicated that Eta dumped over 20 inches of rain along the northwest coast of Honduras, causing destructive flooding that destroyed many roads and bridges, isolating thousands of people. Over 400,000 people were made homeless in Honduras, and Eta could cost 20% of the nation’s GDP, according to one Honduras economist.
Bob Henson contributed to this post.
Posted on November 7, 2020(12:58pm EST)