Eta satellite image
Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Eta at 11:20 a.m. EST Monday, November 2, 2020. (Image credit: RAMMB/CIRA/Colorado State University)

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.

Figure 1. Predicted wind speed (colors) and sea level pressure (black lines) for Hurricane Eta at 10 p.m. EST Monday, November 2, from the 7 a.m. EST (12Z) Monday, November 2, run of the HWRF model. The model predicted Eta would be approaching landfall in northeastern Nicaragua as a category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds and a central pressure of 937 mb. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

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.

Figure 2. Predicted rainfall amounts from the 7 p.m. EST Sunday, November 1, run of the experimental HAFS model, for the four-day period ending at 7 p.m. EST Thursday, November 5. The model predicted that Eta would dump more than 10 inches of rain (yellow-brown colors) in much of Central America, and over 30 inches in northern Honduras. (Image credit: NOAA/AOML)

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.

Figure 3. Track forecasts out to eight days for Eta from the 6Z (1 a.m. EST) Monday, November 2, run of the GFS ensemble model (GEFS). The black line is the mean of the 31 ensemble members; individual ensemble member forecasts are the thin lines, color-coded by the central pressure they predict for Eta. Five of the 31 members predicted a continued west-southwestward motion across Nicaragua and into the East Pacific, while the rest of the members predicted that Eta would reemerge over the Caribbean Sea late this week after hitting Nicaragua. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

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:

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

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.

Figure 4. Hurricane Mitch at peak intensity on October 26, 1998 at 19:15 UTC as it approached landfall in Honduras. At the time, Mitch was a Category 5 hurricane. (Image credit: NASA Worldview)

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.

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Posted on November 2, 2020(1:35pm ET).

Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...

52 replies on “‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Eta may cause catastrophe in Central America”

  1. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #53 – 9:00 AM JST November 3 2020
    TROPICAL STORM GONI (T2019)
    =============================================

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Goni (1002 hPa) located at 14.9N 115.3E has 10 minute sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 7 knots.

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

    Dvorak Intensity:

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 14.2N 113.2E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) South China Sea
    48 HRS: 13.5N 111.0E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) South China Sea
    72 HRS: 12.8N 108.0E – Tropical Depression over land Vietnam

    —————————————————————————————–

    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #41 – 9:00 AM JST November 3 2020
    TROPICAL STORM ATSANI (T2020)
    =============================================
    Sea South of Okinawa

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Atsani (1000 hPa) located at 20.0N 127.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 60 knots. The cyclone is reported as almost stationary.

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

    Dvorak Intensity: T2.5

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 19.8N 128.5E – 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    48 HRS: 19.3N 125.7E – 50 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    72 HRS: 20.0N 120.8E – 60 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Bashi Channel

  2. I’m thankful to be in the mountains of Costa Rica, where moderate earthquakes and continuous rain are considered part of the charm. Eta is predicted to bring us 20 inches, enough to disrupt tourism if there were any, but also makes landslides here and refugees from Nicaragua likely, and that combines with pandemic to = more death and a long dark winter.

    Down here, when Mitch is mentioned, people put their hands over their hearts.

  3. Thank you, Dr. Masters, for this post.
    So terrifying to think of Eta and so sad to think of all in its path.

  4. I plan to donate to the relief efforts, which are likely to be significant. Thinking of the people there and hoping for the best.

  5. Most spaggeti models show it can hit florida as another strong hurricane because it is going to cross the warmest part of the world so it is posssible.

  6. I just hope that this is not another deadly hurricane that may cause more then 10,000 deaths when it makes landfall in Nicrgua

  7. yes prayers for the people there,this truly might be an historic hurricane event, i hope all there are taking this seriously and preparing as best they can

  8. Heartbreaking all the way around. Really hoping that it can just dissipate though that’s not very likely. This season is truly ruinous for so many and even though Sally was no fun, it seems that complaining was unfair given what is happening and may yet come to pass.

  9. Thank You for covering all the bases Dr.; the comparisons to Mitch in terms of potential rain impacts from Eta are sobering to say the least………This is going to be bad.

  10. Statistically, you’re right. Truth is that it’s really hard to predict where a storm will go when it needs to first a) make landfall, b) wander over land for a bit, c) maybe re-emerge, maybe re-form over water, d) strengthen, e) wander over water a bit, and then f) move north. No one could responsibly say Central FL will get a direct strike, but the pattern suggests that some kind of system will end up in the Gulf, and everyone with interests there should keep abreast of the situation as it unfolds. Fair?

  11. I cannot imagine..possible 30+ inches of rain falling there with this Hurricane…add possible Cat-4 winds..my god those people are in for it…no chance this storm changes course?

    1. I don’t have to “imagine” it happened in Pensacola with Sally. 30 inches. Places that have never flooded, flooded.

  12. omg………BULLETIN
    Hurricane Eta Intermediate Advisory Number 8A
    NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL292020
    100 PM EST Mon Nov 02 2020

    …ETA BECOMES A MAJOR HURRICANE…
    …LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE, CATASTROPHIC WINDS, FLASH
    FLOODING, AND LANDSLIDES EXPECTED ACROSS PORTIONS OF CENTRAL
    AMERICA…

    SUMMARY OF 100 PM EST…1800 UTC…INFORMATION
    ———————————————-
    LOCATION…14.7N 82.0W
    ABOUT 85 MI…135 KM E OF CABO GRACIAS A DIOS ON NIC/HON BORDER
    ABOUT 105 MI…170 KM ENE OF PUERTO CABEZAS NICARAGUA
    MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS…120 MPH…195 KM/H
    PRESENT MOVEMENT…W OR 260 DEGREES AT 9 MPH…15 KM/H
    MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE…957 MB…28.26 INCHES

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