FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical Storm Eta emerged over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, where it’s expected to execute a buttonhook turn that will bring it back to the Gulf Coast later this week.
After crossing the Keys and leaving many South Florida neighborhoods awash in knee-deep water, the storm has weakened, its winds declining to 50 mph, according to the 7 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is no longer forecast to reach hurricane strength as it turns and heads for its second landfall in the U.S. The forecast tracks puts a broad swath of the Gulf Coast at risk, from Alabama to just south of Tampa.
At 7 p.m. the storm was about 110 miles north of the western tip of Cuba, heading southwest, although it’s expected to make a sharp right turn Tuesday to bring it back toward Florida. Its winds are expected to accelerate to 70 mph, just short of hurricane force, in the next 36 hours.
Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, said the storm was entering a “hostile environment” of dry air and wind shear that would limit the extent it could strengthen.
The storm’s track was being nudged to the north, presenting more of the a threat to the Panhandle and a less certain — but still real — threat to Florida’s west coast. Graham said there was still a lot of uncertainty about the storm’s long-term track.
Although the storm is heading away from South Florida, the region remains on high alert for rain and flooding. The chances of rain Monday night were 50-70%, but just passing showers and isolated storms.
“I don’t think it’s going to be like what we saw [Sunday] night,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda. “However, it doesn’t take a whole lot given the conditions we have right now. Any kind of additional rainfall, even if it’s like a half inch or an inch, if it falls in an area that’s already flooded that could make things worse.”
The region may also experience king tides, the seasonal high tides that can flood coastal neighborhoods, as early as Thursday.
Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys late Sunday, as the storm’s rain bands subjected South Florida to high winds and “life-threatening” flash floods, the National Hurricane Center said.
Eta was the first storm of the 2020 season to make landfall in Florida. Louisiana, by contrast, has been hit with five named storms — Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, and Tropical Storms Cristobal and Marco.
The storm came ashore on Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada. But its wind field was so wide, reaching up to 310 miles from the storm’s center, that it brought heavy rain and dangerous winds to Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center is monitoring a broad nontropical area of low pressure that is developing several hundred miles southwest of the Azores, which could become Tropical Storm Theta. The hurricane center gave it a 70% chance of formation over the next five days. But that system is expected to travel east-northeast, away from the U.S.
If it were to form into the season’s 29th named storm, 2020 would surpass 2005 as the busiest hurricane season on record.
There’s also a possible area of disturbance in the southwest Caribbean near where Eta formed but it’s not expected to move northward and threaten the U.S.
“At least right now there’s no signs of that from many of the models,” Molleda said.
As of 7 p.m. Monday, more than 15,100 households were without power due to Eta, most in Miami-Dade, followed by Broward and Palm Beach, according to Florida Power & Light.
Residents of the Melrose Manors neighborhood, west of downtown Fort Lauderdale off Broward Boulevard, were among those without power Monday morning.
Approximately 2 feet of water has flooded the streets in the neighborhood.
Rance Ford sat on his pickup truck in his driveway imploring motorists driving by to slow down, because the wake was coming dangerously close to his front door.
“I’m not going to take my car out into that mess,” he said.
A 68-mph gust was reported at Port Everglades and a 49-mph gust at the fishing pier in Lake Worth Beach.
Eta is likely to be gone from South Florida by late next week, sparing the area from a double-whammy of flooding rains during the next king tides cycle, which begins Nov. 14 and ends Nov. 18.
“I think Eta should be pretty far removed from South Florida next Friday,” said Jonathan Erdman, digital meteorologist for the Weather Channel.
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