Tropical Storm Eta still troubles South Florida as it prepares to crash into Gulf Coast

Chris Perkins, David Fleshler, Robin Webb and Brooke Baitinger, Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — South Florida is still feeling the effects of its brush with Tropical Storm Eta, even as the storm threatens the Gulf Coast.

In fact, most of the peninsula could be affected by the storm’s 70 mph winds, just 4 mph below hurricane status.

Eta was just 45 miles west of St. Petersburg and 55 miles west of Tampa at 7 p.m. Eastern time, and was moving north at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters expected it to hover just offshore of the west-central coast overnight before cutting across the state Thursday, so even the east coast from Daytona Beach to Georgia could see tropical storm conditions over the next 48 hours.

Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his state of emergency declaration to add counties from the Gulf Coast and north-central Florida to the list of counties already added from the storm’s initial impact on South Florida. It now includes Alachua, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hendry, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota and Sumter counties.

President Donald Trump approved DeSantis’ request for a federal declaration of emergency, freeing up money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal aid will be available in Alachua, Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hernando, Hillsborough, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota and Sumter counties, a FEMA news release said.

South Florida spent the better part of Wednesday under a variety of warnings and watches, including severe weather advisories and tornado warnings in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

On the Gulf Coast, tropical storm warnings were in effect for Bonita Beach to Suwannee River, forecasters said. Eta’s tropical-storm-force winds stretch out over 115 miles.

Tampa International Airport suspended flights beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Flights were scheduled to resume at noon Thursday.

Eta has a dangerous storm surge of up to 5 feet that could occur anywhere from Bonita Beach to Steinhatchee River, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, forecasters said. The area is under a storm surge warning.

A tropical storm watch is in place for Florida’s Gulf Coast from north of the Suwannee River to the Aucilla River.

The storm is expected to quickly weaken as it moves over land.

Rainfall of 2 to 4 inches, with maximum storm total accumulations of 6 inches, is expected in western and central Florida in the next 48 hours.

Eta should start to weaken in the next 24 hours due to storm-shredding wind shear.

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.

Although the storm has churned away from South Florida, the region remained on high alert for rain and flooding Wednesday.

The region may also experience king tides, the seasonal high tides that can flood coastal neighborhoods, as early as Thursday.

Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys late Sunday as a tropical storm and its rain bands subjected South Florida to high winds and dangerous flash floods, the 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.

Subtropical Storm Theta formed Monday night in the Atlantic, becoming a record-breaking 29th named storm in what has already been a historic hurricane season. Theta, which became a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon, formed far out in the eastern Atlantic and was producing top winds of 60 mph.

The storm broke the previous record of 28 named storms set in the 2005 season, according to the National Hurricane Center.

This is the latest there have been two named storms in the Atlantic since 1887, according to professor Jennifer Collins of the University of South Florida.

There’s also a possible area of disturbance, Invest 98L, in the southwest Caribbean near where Eta formed. It has a 90% chance of developing into a tropical depression late this week or this weekend, according to forecasters — but it’s not expected to move northward and threaten the U.S.

AccuWeather meteorologist Derek Witt said the prevailing weather pattern isn’t conducive for the system to head north toward the United States in the next few days.

“At least through this week and this weekend,” Witt said Wednesday, “we expect it to remain down in the Caribbean and move west.”

The next named storm would be Iota.

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