Extremely dangerous Hurricane Eta is rapidly intensifying over the warm waters of the Caribbean, and is expected to bring catastrophic winds, storm surge, and rains to Nicaragua when it makes landfall on Tuesday. Honduras is also expected to receive catastrophic rains from Eta, with up to 35 inches of rain expected over the next five days.
At 1 p.m. EST Monday, Eta was a category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds and a central pressure of 957 mb, headed west at 9 mph. Eta’s winds had increased by 70 mph over the prior 24 hours, and the hurricane is almost certain to intensify further. Satellite images and Cayman Islands radar showed that heavy rains from Eta were affecting Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and southwestern Haiti. Two personal weather stations on the north central coast of Honduras at Belfate and Santa Fe received two-day rainfall amounts of 6.74 and 5.00 inches, respectively, by 10 a.m. EST Monday. On the north side of Jamaica at Port Maria, 6.45 inches was measured.
Forecast for Eta
A ridge of high pressure to the north of Eta will force the storm on a generally west to west-southwestward motion through Tuesday, resulting in a landfall in northeastern Nicaragua on Tuesday, most likely in the morning. The ridge will weaken through Tuesday, leading Eta to slow down to a forward speed of about 5 mph at landfall.
Conditions for development for Eta were favorable on Monday, and will remain so through Tuesday’s landfall. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) will be a warm 29-29.5 degrees Celsius (84-85°F), about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.0°F) above average; wind shear will be moderate, 10-15 knots; and Eta will be embedded in a very moist atmosphere with a mid-level relative humidity of 85%.
The SHIPS model gave unusually high odds of rapid intensification in its 18Z Monday run, predicting a 58% chance of Eta’s becoming a category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds by 18Z (1 p.m. EST) Tuesday. Hopefully, Eta will make landfall before this can occur.
With the National Hurricane Center predicting a storm surge of up to 18 feet, winds of 140 mph, and rainfall amounts of up to 35 inches, Eta will be catastrophic for Nicaragua. It’s significant and encouraging that Eta’s landfall location is relatively sparsely populated. However, Eta is expected to tap the moisture supply from two oceans – the Atlantic’s Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific – and will be able to dump truly catastrophic rainfall amounts of 10 – 25 inches over a large portion of Central America. These rains are the primary threat posed by the hurricane.
A concerning long-term forecast
Eta will slowly spin down while it gradually moves westward over Central America after landfall, and it may degenerate into a remnant low by the end of the week. However, both the GFS and European models have been increasingly insistent that Eta (or its remnants) will emerge over the southwestern Caribbean late this week and reorganize, potentially becoming a powerful hurricane again by early next week. The re-energized Eta would then be trapped to the south of a strong ridge of high pressure next week, resulting in a slow and erratic motion that will potentially allow the storm to dump dangerously heavy rains over portions of Central America, eastern Mexico, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and South Florida. However, the 12Z Monday run of the GFS model predicted that Eta might become entangled with a trough of low pressure to its north, resulting in a much weaker storm, possibly subtropical in nature.
In any event, a prolonged period of heavy rains is certainly possible next week for the northwestern Caribbean to the eastern Gulf and Florida.
2020 parade of record-early named storms and rapid intensifiers continues
The formation of Eta ties 2020 with 2005 for the most named storms in an Atlantic hurricane season, with 28. Eta’s October 31 arrival marked the earliest date that any Atlantic season has produced its 28th tropical storm, topping the record held by Zeta from December 30, 2005 (an additional unnamed storm was added to 2005’s tally after the season was over).
In total, 25 of 2020’s 28 named storms so far have set records for being the earliest-arriving for their respective letter; only Arthur, Bertha, and Dolly fell short. With 12 hurricanes, 2020 is in a tie with 2010 and 1969 for the second most hurricanes in a season, behind the 15 recorded in 2005. Eta is the 11th major hurricane ever recorded in the month of November; about 3% of all Atlantic major hurricanes have occurred in November.
With nearly a month still to go in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, we’ve already had 28 named storms, 12 hurricanes, five intense hurricanes, and an accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index of 146 (47% above average for the date). According to Colorado State University hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, the averages for this point in the season are 11.2 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes, 2.6 intense hurricanes, and an ACE index of 99.
Eta is the ninth 2020 Atlantic named storm to rapidly intensify, and the fifth consecutive one to do so:
Hurricane Hanna, July 24–25, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Laura, August 26–27, 65 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Sally, September 14–15, 40 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Teddy, September 17–18, 45 mph in 24 hours;
Tropical Storm Gamma, October 2-3, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Delta, October 5–6, 80 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Epsilon, October 20–21, 50 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Zeta, October 27-28, 45 mph in 24 hours; and
Hurricane Eta, November 1-2, 70 mph in 24 hours.
Hurricanes Isaias, Marco, Nana, and Paulette of 2020 did not rapidly intensify. According to statistics compiled by Tomer Berg, the highest number of rapidly intensifying Atlantic storms since 1979 occurred in 1995, with 10.
Hurricane history of Nicaragua and Honduras
According to NOAA’s historical hurricane database, Nicaragua has been struck by 17 hurricanes since 1851. Of these, seven were major hurricanes, and two – Felix in 2007 and Edith of 1971 – were category 5 hurricanes. Honduras has been struck by 10 hurricanes.
For both nations, their most damaging hurricane of all-time was Hurricane Mitch of 1998, a category 5 storm that stalled for multiple days just north of Honduras, before finally making landfall as a category 1 storm. With its slow motion from October 29 to November 3, 1998, Mitch dropped historic amounts of rainfall in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, with unofficial reports of up to 75 inches (1.9 meters). Deaths attributed to the catastrophic flooding made it the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history after the Great Hurricane of 1780; at least 11,374 people were confirmed to have been killed with over 11,000 left missing by the end of 1998; the true death toll may be much higher. Additionally, roughly 2.7 million people were left homeless. Mitch did $5.7 billion in damage (2020 dollars) to Honduras (73% of its GDP), and $1.5 billion in damage to Nicaragua (21% of its GDP).
Hurricane Fifi in 1974, like Hurricane Mitch, was another slow-moving hurricane that brought catastrophic rains to Honduras. Flooding from Fifi killed more than 8,000 people in Honduras, and it was the third most-deadly Atlantic hurricane on record.
Posted on November 2, 2020(1:35pm ET).