Hurricane Eta is moving away from the U.S. this week. So why are forecasters telling Florida to pay attention?

Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

Hurricane Eta is far from the U.S. and moving in the other direction toward Central America. But the storm has the attention of forecasters in Florida who say it’s possible the track will do an about-face and pose a threat to the Sunshine State.

Currently a major hurricane, Eta is on a direct course for Nicaragua. It’s far too early to know for certain what the storm will do once it makes landfall, but forecasters say Floridians, especially those on the northwest coast and the Panhandle, should be paying attention.

Eta will stall after making landfall in Nicaragua and meander over Central America for a day or two. The key is what happens at that point.

“That’s where the forecast gets a little more complicated,” said Carl Erickson, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather.

Some models have Eta emerging in the northwest Caribbean and re-organizing into a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane while heading in the direction of Florida.

Other models have Eta getting absorbed by the mountains and terrain in Nicaragua and Central America and dissipating.

A few models had a third option, which is Eta crossing Central America and emerging on the Pacific Ocean side. Erickson said that’s looking less likely.

“It’s either going to fall apart over land in Central America or re-emerge in the northwestern Caribbean,” Erickson said. “Those two scenarios are more likely than it coming back out over the Pacific.”

Eta isn’t likely to threaten the United States for another 10 or 12 days. Forecasters will have a better idea of its path in two to four days.

However, hurricanes that form this late in the season often come together in the northwestern Caribbean and boomerang back toward Florida, according to Jonathan Erdman, digital meteorologist for IBM’s weather.com.

The combination of warm water and low wind shear means Eta, a Category 3 storm with 120 mph winds, could strengthen to a Category 4 storm (winds between 130 and 156 mph) before it makes landfall, according to AccuWeather and the National Hurricane Center.

If that happens it would be only the fifth hurricane to reach that status in November. The Cuba Hurricane in 1932 reached Category 5 status, and Lenny (1999), Michelle (2001) and Paloma (2008) all reached Category 4.

Few think Eta will conclude this season’s activity.

Although hurricane season is officially June 1 to Nov. 30, there could be storms after the season concludes such as in 2005 when Tropical Storm Zeta formed Dec. 30 and lasted until Jan. 6. Tropical Storm Zeta didn’t threaten any land or lives and is classified as what forecasters call a “stat storm,” or one that just counts toward statistics. One or two more could be coming.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t tally up at least 30 named storms this year,” Erdman said.

That means Floridians can’t relax just yet.

“You should still have your hurricane plans in place,” Erdman said.

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