With Zeta hardly in the rearview mirror and officials and residents still assessing damage along the Gulf Coast and across the Southeast, forecasters have now turned their attention to the latest named storm in the basin -- Tropical Storm Eta. Nearly one month is left in the already record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially ends on Nov. 30. Eta has become the 28th named tropical storm of the season -- tying 2005's record of 28 systems in one year. This is also the first time Eta has ever been used in the Atlantic basin.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has been ratcheting through the Greek alphabet -- for only the second time in history -- to name tropical systems once the designated list for 2020 was exhausted. 2005 was the only other year to use Greek letters, and Zeta was last on the list for that notorious season.
On Saturday evening, Tropical Depression 29 formed 315 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. By 11 p.m. EDT Saturday, the depression strengthened to Tropical Storm Eta with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. Eta was cruising along at 15 mph to the west.
This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Eta which formed in the central Caribbean Sea on Saturday night, Oct. 31, 2020. (AccuWeather)
On Sunday morning, Eta was sustaining maximum winds of 40 mph about 215 miles south from Kingston, Jamaica while moving west at 15 mph.
The governments of Honduras and Nicaragua have issued hurricane watches for coastal areas of these countries, according to the NHC.
Eta will continue move along a westward path across the Caribbean Sea at a swift pace into early week.
Further strengthening is expected as the storm enters the western part of the Caribbean, enough so for the feature to become a stronger tropical storm or even a hurricane. And, it may rapidly ramp up in intensity.
"At this time, steering breezes are likely to guide Eta into Central America during the early to middle part of the week," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.
Regardless of whether the tropical storm becomes a hurricane prior to landfall, life-threatening effects are expected to impact parts of Central America early this week.
To the north, stiff easterly winds will cause a zone of moderate wind shear across an area from the Gulf of Mexico to near the Bahamas. Wind shear is the increase in wind speed with altitude. It can not only cause tropical storms or hurricanes to weaken, but it can also limit tropical development in the first place.
The strong easterly wind could block or prevent Eta from moving northward through the middle part of the week. However, if easterly surface winds and wind shear were to weaken, then a system move could move northward next weekend and possibly become a threat to the U.S.
Beyond this week, AccuWeather meteorologists said there may be another area to watch for trouble in the Atlantic basin.
There is some indication that a broad area of disturbed weather may take shape somewhere from the central and eastern Caribbean to east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda during the second week of November.
The development may occur as a tropical wave moves westward into the region. Another scenario that forecasters will monitor for is the potential for a storm in the middle levels of the atmosphere to spin down to the surface of the ocean, feed off of the warm water and eventually evolve into a tropical system. Epsilon formed in this manner during the middle of October.
Following Eta, the next tropical storm to form will be given the name Theta, which is the next letter in the Greek alphabet.
It is generally difficult for tropical systems to move westward or northward enough to reach the U.S. during November, due to prevailing west-to-northwest winds, but sometimes gaps in these conditions can occur at the wrong time and allow a tropical system to approach U.S. shores. Such was the case with Hurricane Zeta.
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