Tropical Depression Eta could affect Florida and the Gulf of Mexico as storm


Now, Eta is gearing up for a second round that could affect Cuba, the Gulf of Mexico and possibly Florida. Eta has degenerated into a tropical depression since its initial onslaught on coastal Nicaragua, but with a core still intact, it will probably begin to organize again over the warm waters of the western Caribbean on Friday.

Western Florida remains the only swath of the Lower 48′s Atlantic coastline that hasn’t been blanketed beneath a tropical storm or hurricane alerts so far this season. Eta, the year’s record-tying 28th name storm, could fill the gap that remains.

Eta now

As of 10 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, Eta was a tropical depression, the remnants of a tropical storm. Winds had diminished to 30 mph as the shredded circulation spun through western Honduras. The center, around which pinwheeling showers and downpours continued to soak Central America, was moving west-northwest at 7 mph. It will eventually be steered more northerly and northeasterly in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Rainfall totals of up to 40 inches were forecast in eastern parts of Honduras and Nicaragua, while another 10 to 15 inches remains possible farther north into Guatemala and Belize before the system moves offshore. Its center is likely to pass over the Gulf of Honduras, where water temperatures are very supportive of re-intensification, on Friday.

There is a slight chance that Eta’s ragged low-level center disintegrates, and a new vortex forms beneath its upper-level swirl. If this ends up happening, the case could be made for the National Hurricane Center to name the system “Theta,” declaring it a new cohesive tropical feature.

Redevelopment over Caribbean and impact to Cuba

In an ordinary season, most tropical activity would be winding to a close by this point in November. But 2020 is no typical season. There remains plenty of “ocean heat content,” or energy to fuel tropical systems, in the northwest Caribbean. Eta could try to tap into that Friday and Saturday as it moves northeast.

Heavy rain is likely in the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba, where a few spots might see more than two feet.

Wind impacts will depend heavily on how much Eta intensifies before it approaches Cuba on Sunday. While it will have close to 48 hours over the Caribbean to strengthen, rapid intensification — which was the secret to Eta’s dizzying transition into a Category 4 powerhouse earlier this week — is unlikely. That’s because Eta will be fending off some disruptive wind shear, or a change of wind speed and/or direction with height, on its northern flank.

Impact to Florida and the Southeast

Uncertainty abounds when it comes to the forecast for Florida, the Sunshine State’s brush with Eta dependent on both Eta’s strength when it moves away from Central America and how quickly its core can recover after encountering Cuba. Right now, it appears Eta will breeze through the Florida Straits north of Cuba on Monday.

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting maximum winds around 50 to 60 mph by then, but where they strike is in question. Eta will be arcing to the northwest around a zone of low pressure to its west. This would drag Eta toward southwest Florida after crossing the Keys. Then it would track either up Florida’s west coast or parallel to it before making a left turn further into the Gulf of Mexico.

But Eta could narrowly escape that system’s pull and ride north or north-northwest, which could bring gusts of up to 60 mph into South Florida, including the Miami-Dade area. Those winds wouldn’t make it far up the peninsula, though, the circulation withering over land. A few tornadoes would also be a concern in that scenario.

While water temperatures are cooling and the potential for a high-end system is limited, there’s an outside chance Eta could once again become a hurricane. We’ll know more in the days ahead.

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