Much of South Florida under hurricane watch as Tropical Storm Eta closes in on Cuba

Brooke Baitinger, Chris Perkins, Wayne K. Roustan and Wells Dusenbury, Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A large stretch of southern Florida from the Keys through Broward County are under a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning as Tropical Storm Eta closed in on central Cuba Saturday afternoon on a path toward Florida.

The 4 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center also placed Palm Beach County under a tropical storm warning.

Eta was moving northeast at 16 mph and was 195 west-southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

South Florida can expect 6 to 9 inches of rain through Tuesday morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda said Saturday morning. The greatest potential is on the east coast, he said.

No substantial storm surge was expected, but flooding is possible along the coast and in low-lying areas. Broward County has been clearing storm drains and flushing water into canals to prepare for more rain in an already saturated South Florida.

Tornadoes are possible across south Florida on Sunday night, Molleda said.

Hurricane watches are in effect for the Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach. The watch also covers the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Florida coast from Jupiter Inlet to Bonita Beach, including Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee.

Warnings are also in place for the Cayman Islands, six central Cuban provinces, and the northwestern Bahamas.

The Cone of Uncertainty has been extended to include all of Florida except for the western tip of the Panhandle.

Eta weakened into a tropical depression Wednesday evening after making landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 major hurricane earlier this past week. The storm fell apart over Central America’s mountainous terrain but not before bringing life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flash flooding.

Eta is the 12th hurricane of the year. Only three other full Atlantic seasons on record have seen more than 12 hurricanes.

It is the 28th named storm of the year, tying the 2005 season record for 28 storms of tropical storm strength or greater.

Forecasters said a Hurricane Hunter aircraft found Eta’s center farther south than expected on Friday afternoon. If the storm has slowed down, it will remain over warm water longer and have more time to strengthen before arriving at the south coast of Cuba.

Although there’s a chance Eta will reach hurricane strength, it is more likely to remain a tropical storm when it makes its closest approach to Florida late in the weekend.

“It’s not currently what’s forecast,” Molleda said. “But it’s not something we can rule out right now.”

Eta’s winds would have to increase to more than 74 mph to become a hurricane.

Despite a pattern this year of storms seeing rapid intensification — defined by wind speeds increasing by at least 35 mph within 24 hours — conditions don’t appear favorable for Eta to follow suit.

But, forecasters warn, the exact track and intensity aren’t certain and the outlook could change.

The past five storms in the Atlantic basin — including Hurricane Eta before it struck Central America early this past week — have undergone rapid intensification.

The forecast track has Eta’s center approaching the Cayman Islands on Saturday, and the south coast of Cuba on Saturday night and into Sunday.

After that, forecast models are in disagreement about where the storm will go. Some say the system will make a sharp turn west just before the Florida Keys and move into the Gulf of Mexico. Others predict it will come closer to South Florida on Monday or Tuesday.

In either case, the storm will probably slow down over Cuba and have as much as 24 hours to strengthen between Cuba and South Florida.

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.

However, Molleda said power outages are possible and drivers on overpasses, especially in high-profile vehicles, should be aware of the potential for gusty winds.

South Florida is under a flood watch through Tuesday evening.

“I think the issue is mainly the timing (of Eta’s effects),” said John Jamason, Palm Beach County emergency management deputy director of public affairs.

Jamason said the county always plans for a storm one category higher than its expected arrival. He said he’s unsure whether Eta would necessitate opening shelters but that possibility will be discussed.

———

©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.