Tropical Storm Eta makes landfall in the Keys as it hits South Florida with 'life-threatening' flash flooding

Chris Perkins, Brooke Baitinger, Wayne K. Roustan, Wells Dusenbury and David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys at 11 p.m. Sunday, as the storm’s rain bands subjected South Florida to a night of high winds and “life-threatening” flash floods, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm came ashore on Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada. But its wind field is so wide, reaching up to 310 miles from the storm’s center, that it has brought heavy rain and dangerous winds to Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

South Florida will experience the high winds, rain and chance of tornadoes into Monday morning. A flash flood warning was issued until 11:45 p.m. Knee-deep water was reported in Davie and flooding in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the National Weather Service said.

The risk of tornadoes rose for South Florida and was to be highest Sunday night and into early Monday morning as bands from the right side of the storm rake South Florida.

Miami-Dade County faces the greatest danger, although the at-risk region extends through Broward and southeastern Palm Beach counties, according to the National Weather Service.

“Strong low-level vertical wind shear and increasing instability could support an increasing tornado risk over the next several hours,” the weather service said in a bulletin issued just before 9 p.m.

More than 37,000 households were without power, most in Broward County, followed by Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, according to Florida Power & Light.

“Remain sheltered tonight,” the National Weather Service said.

A 68-mph gust was reported at Port Everglades and a 49-mph gust at the fishing pier in Lake Worth Beach.

“You see some of these rain bands pushing into places like West Palm Beach, Broward County, Miami-Dade County — some strong winds and intense rainfall in these areas,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, in a 4 p.m. briefing. “Also you can see 50 to 60 mph wind gusts. So brace for that.”

Tropical force winds, which means speeds of at least 39 mph, were expected to continue in South Florida until about noon Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was still projected to reach hurricane strength, with winds of 75 mph, when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. A hurricane watch remained in place for Miami-Dade County, and Broward and Palm Beach County both remained under a tropical storm warning.

At 10 p.m. the storm was producing winds of 65 mph, with its center located about 80 miles east of Key West, according to the latest update Sunday from the National Hurricane Center.

South Florida can expect 6 to 9 inches of rain through Tuesday morning, with forecasters warning the region faces a high risk of flooding.

The Broward County School District dropped plans for online classes Monday, after Florida Power & Light warned of the likelihood of widespread power outages. Schools and administrative offices will be closed Monday.

Both in-person and My School Online were canceled in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. In addition, all school district offices in Palm Beach County will be closed Monday, Superintendent Robert Fennoy announced Sunday afternoon.

Broward Mayor Dale Holness said all nonemergency county government business operations will be closed Monday. But since a significant storm surge is not expected, he said there were no orders to evacuate coastal neighborhoods.

“Do not go outside until conditions are safe and this storm has passed,” Holness said.

Fort Lauderdale and North Perry Airports are operating as normal, but passengers are encouraged to check for flight delays.

All Broward County bridges were locked down beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday and all COVID-19 testing sites are closed through Monday.

Broward County bus service will resume at noon Monday after it concludes its regular schedule Sunday.

There’s a chance high winds could cause power outages. Holness called for patience, if that’s the case.

“Restoring power will be challenging,” he said.

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

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.

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.

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

Eta could be the first storm of the 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.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center is monitoring a broad nontropical area of low pressure that might be developing several hundred miles southwest of the Azores. The hurricane center said it could develop subtropical characteristics later this week as it moves east or east-northeast over the Atlantic Ocean, and gave it a 20% chance of formation over the next five days.

———

©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.