Infrared satellite image of Tropical Storm Eta at 1730Z (12:30 p.m. EST) Wednesday, November 4, 2020. (Image credit: RAMMB/CIRA/Colorado State University)

Former Hurricane Eta inundated parts of Central America with torrential rains and deadly flooding as a tropical storm on Wednesday, after lashing the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua with a major storm surge and shrieking Category 4 winds. At least three deaths had occurred from landslides and mudslides in Nicaragua and Honduras, according to the Guardian. Eta is expected to move back into the Caribbean and reorganize as a tropical storm late this week, and it may move over or near Florida early next week.

Eta made landfall around 4 p.m. EST Tuesday about 15 miles south-southwest of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, with top winds of 140 mph, down slightly from the hurricane’s overnight peak of 150 mph. The northern eyewall passed over Puerto Cabezas (pop. 66,000), also called Bilwi by the Miskito population indigenous to the area. The city’s weather station stopped reporting a few hours before landfall. Hurricane-force winds extended only 25 miles from Eta’s center, so it is likely that Eta’s fiercest winds and storm surge were focused on the sparsely populated area just south of Puerto Cabezas/Bilwi. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the city, although photos showed that at least some homes were destroyed and a city park was heavily damaged.

Eta weakened quickly after landfall as it moved inland over northern Nicaragua, becoming a tropical storm by early Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicts that Eta will be a tropical depression between late Wednesday and Friday as it arcs gradually northwest across the heart of Honduras and approaches the Caribbean coast of Belize.

Short-term threat from Eta: Flooding and mudslides

Slow-moving hurricanes that strike the rugged terrain of Central America have produced some of the worst disasters in recent Atlantic history. Hurricane Fifi-Orlene caused some 8,200 deaths in 1974, and in 1998 Hurricane Mitch pushed into Honduras from the north after crawling just offshore for more than a day as a Category 4 and 5 storm. Up to 36″ of rain fell, and flooding and landslides related to Mitch led to some 7,000 deaths in Honduras and 3,800 in Nicaragua.

Fortunately, Eta was a smaller hurricane than Mitch, and it moved inland relatively soon after reaching peak strength. However, the system is embedded within a large cyclonic circulation that has some features of a Central American Gyre. The result is that winds will continue to push onshore and upslope across much of Nicaragua and Honduras, albeit not as powerfully as with Mitch. Still, widespread flooding and mudslides are expected, and there remains the potential for devastating impacts in any areas where the rains and floods are particularly intense.

As of midday Wednesday, NHC was calling for the potential of an additional 10-20″ of rain over much of Nicaragua and Honduras, with storm totals of up to 40″ possible.

Figure 1. National Hurricane Center outlook for Tropical Storm Eta issued at 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, November 4. (Image credit: NOAA/NWS/NHC.)

Long-term forecast for Eta

An upper-level trough moving across the United States is expected to pick up Eta or its remnants and pull it back over the northwest Caribbean on Friday. Note that even if Eta weakens into a remnant low while over land, it would keep the name Eta rather than take a new name should it restrengthen.

Assuming that Eta does regroup and move toward western Cuba on Friday and Saturday – as indicated by most longer-range model runs, and depicted in the NHC forecast – conditions will likely favor some intensification. Waters remain very warm (around 29°C), and there is ample oceanic heat content. The main limiting factors would be wind shear from the approaching upper-level trough, together with a gradual infusion of dry air into the circulation. NHC predicts that Eta will reach Cuba as a tropical storm around Saturday night.

The forecast becomes even more complex from Sunday onward. It appears the southern end of the upper-level trough steering Eta will break off from the jet stream and dive into the eastern Gulf. As a result, Eta (again assuming it has made it this far) would likely get pulled toward the trough, perhaps rotating around it or becoming absorbed by it. Long-range models indicate that both features will be slow to move next week, trapped south of an unusually strong upper ridge over the eastern U.S.

Also see: Climate change is causing more rapid intensification of Atlantic hurricanes

Bottom line: The details will remain murky until late week, but it’s quite plausible there will be a prolonged period of disturbed weather in and around Florida. Because the circulation in which Eta is embedded remains quite expansive, heavy rains may get underway as soon as Thursday in South Florida, well north of Eta itself. “Flooding is a particular concern given saturated soils across portions of South Florida, especially the east coast metro region,” warned the National Weather Service office in Miami on Wednesday. In addition, the upcoming new moon will favor king tides in the Miami area by the end of next week (November 14-17).

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Posted on November 4, 2020(2:22pm EST).

Bob Henson

Bob Henson is a meteorologist and journalist based in Boulder, Colorado. He has written on weather and climate for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Weather Underground, and many freelance...

27 replies on “Eta’s rains plague Central America; Will Cuba and Florida be next?”

  1.    Day 3 Convective Outlook AMEND 1
       NWS Storm Prediction Center Norman OK
       1238 PM CST Fri Nov 06 2020
    
       Valid 081200Z - 091200Z
    
       ...NO SEVERE THUNDERSTORM AREAS FORECAST...
    
       AMENDED TO ADD DISCUSSION ABOUT TROPICAL SYSTEM ETA
    
       ...SUMMARY...
       Low-end tornado risk could evolve late in the period with the
       arrival of tropical system ETA to the Florida Keys vicinity.
    
       ...DISCUSSION...
       A upper-level low pressure system will move slowly across the
       western U.S. on Sunday as flow remains south-southwesterly across
       the central states. Moisture return will take place across the
       southern Plains and Arklatex as a strong low-level jet develops in
       the Great Plains. Elevated thunderstorms will be possible on the
       western edge of the low-level jet Sunday night from the Texas
       Panhandle north-northeastward into the northern Plains and mid
       Missouri Valley. Other thunderstorms will be possible across
       southern sections of the Atlantic Seaboard, with some tornado risk
       possibly evolving over southern Florida and the Keys, late in the
       period.
    
       ...Southern Florida and the Florida Keys...
       Latest NHC forecasts show Tropical Depression ETA -- currently just
       east of Belize -- moving northeastward with time.  The storm is
       forecast to strengthen to tropical-storm strength, and should reach
       Cuba by Sunday morning -- i.e. the start of the Day 3 period. 
       Current forecasts then depict the storm taking a
       northward/northwestward turn, reaching the Florida Keys vicinity by
       12Z Monday.  
    
       Based on the current track forecast, strong low-level easterly flow
       would spread northward toward -- and eventually into -- south
       Florida Sunday, with 0-1 shear potentially becoming supportive of
       low-level rotation in cellular convection through latter stages of
       the period.  While uncertainty precludes introduction of a risk area
       at this time, a low-probability tornado risk area will be considered
       in the next outlook update, north and northeast of the forecast
       track of the system.
    
       ..Goss.. 11/06/2020
    
  2. well lemme say, if east central Florida doesnt get anything Tropical..thats great news.no need to keep going over it…posting model runs never means its GOING to happen….all its saying is..it Could happen…and each model is different ok

  3. It’s almost offensive when people say crap like this. You realize Pensacola is still part of Florida, right?

  4. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #75 – 3:00 AM JST November 6 2020
    TROPICAL DEPRESSION, FORMER TS GONI (T2019)
    =============================================
    South China Sea

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Depression Goni (1002 hPa) located at 14.0N 111.0E has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots. The depression is reported as moving west slowly.

    This is the final tropical cyclone advisory from RSMC Tokyo..

    ——————————————————————————-

    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #63 – 3:00 AM JST November 6 2020
    TROPICAL STORM ATSANI (T2020)
    =============================================
    Sea South of Okinawa

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Atsani (994 hPa) located at 20.6N 123.0E has 10 minute sustained winds of 50 knots with gusts of 70 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 11 knots.

    Gale Force Winds
    =================
    180 nm from the center in northwestern quadrant
    90 nm from the center in southeastern quadrant

    Dvorak Intensity: T3.0

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    12 HRS: 21.2N 121.2E – 55 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Bashi Channel
    24 HRS: 22.1N 119.7E – 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) South China Sea
    48 HRS: 20.8N 116.5E – Tropical Depression in South China Sea

  5. Thu Nov 5 2020
    
    THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA.
    
    .DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT.
    
    .RIP CURRENT IMPACT...
    Weather and ocean conditions will result in rough surf along with
    a Moderate risk of life-threatening rip currents at area beaches
    today. Use caution at the beach and always swim near a lifeguard
    if you enter the dangerous and rough surf. Do not swim alone.
    
    .WIND AND SEA IMPACT...
    East to east-northeast winds near 20 knots and seas up to around 7
    feet will keep conditions hazardous for small craft over most of the
    local Atlantic waters overnight. A Small Craft Advisory continues
    for all of the local waters except near the Volusia County coast,
    where small craft operators should exercise caution.
    
    .RIVER FLOOD IMPACT...
    The Saint Johns River near Astor is expected to remain in Minor
    Flood stage through the upcoming weekend. Refer to daily Flood
    Statements from NWS Melbourne for the latest river levels and
    forecasts.
    
    .DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN...FRIDAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY.
    Brisk onshore winds will keep conditions hazardous at area beaches
    in the form of rough surf and at least a moderate risk for life-
    threatening rip currents through the rest of this week. Hazardous
    boating conditions will also persist for the remainder of this
    week with Small Craft Advisories continuing over most of the
    local Atlantic coastal waters.
    
    As the weekend approaches, breezy to windy conditions are likely
    with deep moisture overspreading the area. A potential exists for
    heavy rainfall, along with high seas and surf producing dangerous
    boating and beach conditions, and potentially significant beach
    erosion along the coast.
    
    .SPOTTER INFORMATION STATEMENT...
    Spotter activation will not be needed today and tonight.
    
    $$
    
    Pendergrast
    
  6. East Central Florida is still saturated from the summer rains. If the forecasted rain totals materialize then we may get permanent lakes in certain low lying areas.

    1. That is a bit dramatic. The soils are not all the saturated in Florida as they drain relatively fast. Plus, permanent lakes?? lol

  7. Reading that south FL may get 15 inches of rain will certainly pad the dry season rainfall totals during a strong La Nina year. I hope we don’t end up w/ another situation like 98, if I remember correctly, where it rained tons because of the El Nino, the vegetation grew, and then the tap turned off, and wildfires burned across FL once the hot season began. I believe an entire county had to evacuate because of fires that year. But w/ the Mitch parallel storm, who knows?

  8. Models seem to be split on having Eta crossing the middle of Cuba and making a hard left like the NHC forecast (big shout out to that team, really admire the hard work they do) and drifting farther into the Bahamas, then track more north. SE Florida will have some gusty winds Sunday and Monday either way.

      1. yes because local TV mets think it will only be a rain maker but with some good winds at times,sounds good to me..i like Gardening and my ground is dry now so any rain here is a good thing and..this is the beginning of our Dry season

  9. well it seems we Floridians have perhaps some interesting stormy weather possible beginning they think this coming Sunday on…my hope is no Strong tropical storm kind of storm because..it may sit on or around Florida for quite awhile maybe stuck south of the trough

  10. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #69 – 9:00 AM JST November 5 2020
    TROPICAL STORM GONI (T2019)
    =============================================
    South China Sea

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Goni (998 hPa) located at 14.5N 111.7E has 10 minute sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 60 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 6 knots.

    Gale Force Winds
    ==================
    210 nm from the center in northwestern quadrant
    120 nm from the center in southeastern quadrant

    Dvorak Intensity: T2.5

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 14.4N 109.2E – Tropical Depression in the South China Sea

    ————————————————————————-

    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #57 – 9:00 AM JST November 5 2020
    SEVERE TROPICAL STORM ATSANI (T2020)
    =============================================
    Sea East of the Philippines

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Atsani (994 hPa) located at 19.9N 126.7E has 10 minute sustained winds of 50 knots with gusts of 70 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 9 knots.

    Gale Force Winds
    =================
    180 nm from the center in northwestern quadrant
    90 nm from the center in southeastern quadrant

    Dvorak Intensity: T3.0

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 20.5N 121.9E – 65 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea South of Okinawa
    48 HRS: 21.6N 118.4E – 55 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) South China Sea
    72 HRS: 19.2N 114.0E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) South China Sea

  11. Did you ever have a geology or physical geography course? Mudslides are rare and usually minor. Mudflows and debris flows are far more common. What weather geeks do is like a geologist describing ETA as a tornado!

  12. In the Keys, we thought we may escape harm this season, but we get a reminder that the season doesn’t officially end until 11/30 (and that’s no guarantee of no more storms)! Keeping fingers crossed – thanks for the analysis!

  13. Thanks, Mr. Henson.
    It will be interesting to see how Eta does in the second half of its life. Pretty incredible storm.
    Looking forward to more of your and Dr. Masters’ analyses.

Comments are closed.