Tropical Storm Eta made landfall at 4 a.m. EST Thursday, November 12, near Cedar Key, Florida, about 85 miles northwest of Tampa. At landfall, Eta had maximum winds of 50 mph and a central pressure of 996 mb. Eta brought a storm surge of just over four feet to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night and rainfall amounts of up to 10 inches in the Tampa area. One death has been blamed on the storm, an electrocution in Bradenton Beach. No major structural damage was being reported in the Tampa area, though considerable street flooding, tree damage, and power failures were observed, according to a write-up at weather.com.
Eta was the record 12th named storm to make landfall in the U.S. in 2020, well ahead of the previous record of nine from 1916. In all, Eta made four landfalls:
November 3: Nicaragua, category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds
November 8: South-central Cuba, tropical storm with 65 mph winds
November 8: Florida Keys, tropical storm with 65 mph winds
November 12: Cedar Key, Florida, tropical storm with 50 mph winds
According to Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, as of 10 a.m. EST Thursday, Eta had been a named storm for 9.5 days (not including the time it was a tropical depression), tying it with Gordon (1994) for the longest-lived Atlantic named storm forming in November in the satellite era (since 1966). Eta was the latest-occurring named storm to make landfall in Florida since Gordon, which hit Cape Coral on November 16, 1994.
Persistent rain bands from Eta set up over portions of western Florida on Wednesday, resulting in torrential rains that caused widespread urban flooding. The heaviest rains, near 10 inches, fell in the Tampa region.
Eta’s rains have brought four rivers in western Florida to minor flood stage, with one river, the Little Manatee River, expected to reach moderate flood stage on Friday.
Eta’s winds and gusts
Strong winds from Eta affected much of the western Florida coast on Wednesday, knocking out power to approximately 35,000 customers as of 11 a.m. EST Thursday, according to poweroutage.us. Here are some of the top wind gusts in Florida from Eta as of 5 p.m. EST Wednesday, November 11, according to the NWS:
69 mph, Port Charlotte
60 mph, Punta Gorda
52 mph, Tampa
55 mph, Boca Raton
53 mph, Fort Myers
52 mph, Sarasota
Minor coastal flooding from a four-foot storm surge in Tampa Bay
Eta’s onshore winds generated a storm surge just over four feet in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. In St. Petersburg, the water level of 3.47 feet above high tide recorded at 11:42 p.m. EST Wednesday ranked as the fourth-highest water level in the city since records began in 1947 and its highest water level since Hurricane Josephine 24 years ago.
For the remainder of the western Florida coast from Naples to Cedar Key, Eta brought a storm surge of two to three feet, which caused minor coastal flooding.
Forecast for Eta
At 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Eta was located 40 miles north-northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, with top sustained winds of 40 mph and a central pressure of 1004 mb, moving north-northeast at 15 mph. Eta is expected to accelerate over the Atlantic waters offshore of the Carolinas through early Friday before heading well east of the Mid-Atlantic coast by late Friday. Eta is expected to become post-tropical by Friday night 45-50 mph winds.
The heavy rains that are falling in South Carolina and North Carolina are not directly associated with Eta, but are associated with a moist flow of Atlantic air interacting with a frontal boundary, a phenomenon called a predecessor rain event. Rocky Mount, North Carolina, has smashed its one- and two-day rainfall records (data since 2000) with 6.02 inches on Wednesday and 8.89 inches through noon Thursday. Rains from the event have now given Research Triangle, North Carolina, its third-wettest year on record, and the state record for greatest precipitation in a year could fall later this month at Highlands, North Carolina.
Theta poses little threat to land
There was little change on Thursday to Tropical Storm Theta, the record-breaking 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. At 10 a.m. EST Thursday, Theta was located about 455 miles south-southwest of the Azores Islands, headed east at about 12 mph. Theta had top sustained winds of 65 mph.
Theta will move east through Sunday, taking the storm toward the Canary Islands. There are no land areas in Theta’s three-day cone of uncertainty, and high wind shear and cold waters are expected to weaken Theta to a post-tropical cyclone with 35 mph winds by Sunday.
98L likely to become dangerous Tropical Storm Iota in the Caribbean this weekend
A tropical wave in the central Caribbean, designated 98L by NHC, brought flash flooding and heavy rains of three to five inches to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday. On Thursday, the wave was located a few hundred miles south of the Dominican Republic. Satellite imagery showed that 98L’s heavy thunderstorm activity was disorganized, but low-level spin was beginning to form in addition to some spiral bands. The first Hurricane Hunter mission into 98L is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
The top three models for predicting tropical cyclone genesis were giving 98L strong support for development by this weekend, when the wave will likely be in the central or southwestern Caribbean, between Jamaica and Nicaragua. The wave is predicted to move mostly westward at about 5-10 mph under the steering influence of a ridge of high pressure to its north, resulting in a potential threat to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Central America in the coming days. Conditions for development will be favorable through Tuesday, with the SHIPS model predicting light to moderate wind shear of 5-15 knots, warm sea surface temperatures of 29-29.5 degrees Celsius (84-85°F), and a moist atmosphere with a mid-level relative humidity of 60-70%.
These conditions are very similar to what Hurricane Eta experienced in its formative stages in the Caribbean in late October, and 98L is a significant threat to intensify into a hurricane that will affect the same areas of the Caribbean impacted by Hurricane Eta. In particular, Nicaragua and Honduras, which were devastated by Hurricane Eta, appear at great risk of receiving heavy rains from 98L beginning on Monday.
In a best-case scenario, 98L will not develop, or will pass well to the north of Honduras, bringing heavy rains of 3-6 inches to Nicaragua and Honduras next week between November 15-20. Rains of this magnitude are capable of causing dangerous life-threatening flooding in regions still recovering from Hurricane Eta’s floods from last week. The worst-case scenario, which the top three models for predicting tropical cyclone genesis were all calling for, was for northern Honduras to receive over 20 inches of rain from 98L next week. While the hurricane intensity models should not be trusted until 98L becomes a tropical cyclone with a closed surface circulation, the top intensity models on Thursday morning all predicted that 98L would become a hurricane by Tuesday, with several of the models forecasting a major hurricane.
In a 1 p.m. EST Thursday tropical weather outlook, NHC gave 98L two-day and five-day odds of development of 80% and 90%, respectively. The next name on the Atlantic list of storms is Iota, the ninth letter in the Greek alphabet.
Bob Henson contributed to this post.
Posted on November 12, 2020 at 1:57 p.m. EST.