Tropical Storm Eta lashes Florida with rain, flooding as zig-zag path will target state again

·9 min read

Tropical Storm Eta moved off of Florida’s southwest coast overnight, but continues to dump torrential rain across South Florida causing flooding and whipping up winds and storm surge Monday morning.

As of 7 a.m. EST, the National Hurricane Center reported the center of the storm was located about 80 miles west-northwest of Key West and 100 miles southwest of Naples with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph and moving west at 13 mph.

The system officially made landfall over Lower Matecumbe Key late Sunday before moving further west overnight. But its outer bands with the worst weather were being dragged across the state Monday.

The wind field for the storm has nearly doubled since Sunday with tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 310 miles from its center, and the storm is expected to grow in intensity, becoming a hurricane as if moves further west into the Gulf of Mexico.

South Florida has already endured more than 14 inches of rain in October, with Eta dumping 6-12 more inches since the weekend.

“In some areas, the water isn’t pumping out as fast as it’s coming in,” warned Miami Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was in frequent contact with county water officials about the struggle to drain the flooded waters, which has stalled vehicles, whitewashed some intersections and even crept into some homes.

On Sunday night, authorities in Lauderhill, in Broward County to the north, responded to a report of a car that had driven into a canal. Photos taken by fire units on the scene showed rescuers searching high waters near a parking lot.

Firefighters pulled one person from a car and took the patient to a hospital in critical condition, according to a statement from Lauderhill Fire.

“A west to west- southwest motion with some reduction in forward speed is expected later today and tonight,” according to NHC hurricane specialist John Cangialosi. “Little overall motion is expected on Tuesday and a slow northward motion is forecast on Wednesday. On the forecast track, the center of Eta will gradually pull away from the Florida Keys and south Florida today and be over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico tonight through Wednesday.”

That’s when the NHC forecast track has the storm continuing its zig-zag path and head back east for landfall on Florida’s west coast by Friday.

The storm’s breadth causes several counties to cancel school on Monday including up to the southeast coast to Brevard County, which was under a tropical storm warning.

A Tropical Storm Warning remains in effect for the Florida coast from the Brevard-Volusia County line around the peninsula up to Anna Maria Island as well as for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas including Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee.

Several provinces of Cuba remain under a Tropical Storm Watch.

The storm formed last week in the Caribbean before growing into a hurricane and striking Central America while heading west, then shifting directions over land, falling back down to a tropical depression and heading east on its way back through the Caribbean, regaining tropical storm strength and then passing over Cuba.

Then it shifted directions again, now heading west, but still has at least one more pivot, according to forecasters, and the NHC’s cone of uncertainty for Eta covers a large part of the Florida peninsula.

“We’re going to be dealing with this all week,” said NHC director Ken Graham.

The track has it possibly making landfall, but as a tropical storm again, somewhere north of Tampa and possibly up into the Big Bend region of the state, according to FOX 35 meteorologist Jayme King.

“Tracking the windfield on this, you can kind of see winds really ease and kind of collect over the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” King said. “From that point we’ve got to distinctly see where the circulation goes and what they may ultimately mean for us in Florida.”

For Monday, though, the NHC said rainfall will continue to fall in the central and southern portions of the state, adding 2 to 4 inches with some pockets of up to 18 inches. There’s also storm surge of 2-3 feet expected from Bonita Beach in southwest Florida to Card Sound Bridge in Key Largo, and another 1-2 feet from there up to Golden Beach in Miami-Dade.

Squalls with wind gusts of 35-45 mph pushed onshore along Florida’s East Coast and into Central Florida as the storm’s outer bands continue to circulate over its massive breadth, according to the National Weather Service.

Eta’s Sunday rains caused some urban flooding to parts of South Florida, while also continuing to threaten the state, Cuba and Jamaica.

“Flash flooding and river flooding will be possible in Cuba, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the NHC said. “Life-threatening flash flooding will be possible across inundated urban areas of southeast Florida. Flash and urban flooding will also be possible for Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the remainder of southern and eastern Florida over the next several days. Minor river flooding is also possible for Central Florida."

Eta made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 major hurricane but degenerated once its center became disrupted by Central America’s mountainous terrain, causing it to weaken into a tropical depression Wednesday evening. Eta redeveloped into a tropical storm on Saturday morning in the Caribbean, as it grew closer to the Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas and, ultimately, Florida.

Its toll from its Central American landfall continues to worsen. Authorities in Guatemala on Sunday raised the known death toll there to 27 from 15 and said more than 100 were missing, many of them in the landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz.

Local officials in Honduras reported 21 dead, though the national disaster agency had confirmed only eight.

Eta initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico were still surveying the damages following days of torrential rains during the week.

In Guatemala, search teams first had to overcome multiple landslides and deep mud just to reach the site where officials have estimated some 150 homes were devastated.

In the worst-hit village, Quejá, at least five bodies have been pulled from the mud. The Indigenous community of about 1,200 residents consisted of simple homes of wood and tin roofs clinging to the mountainside.

Rescue workers used a helicopter to evacuate survivor Emilio Caal, who said he lost as many as 40 family members and relatives. Caal, 65, suffered a dislocated shoulder when the landslide sent rocks, trees and earth hurtling onto the home where he was about to sit down to lunch with his wife and grandchildren. Caal said he was blown several yards (meters) by the force of the slide, and that none of the others were able to get out.

“My wife is dead, my grandchildren are dead,” said Caal from a nearby hospital.

Firefighters' spokesman Ruben Tellez said at least one additional person died in Guatemala on Sunday when a small plane went down while carrying emergency supplies to the stricken area.

In neighboring Honduras, 68-year-old María Elena Mejía Guadron died when the brown waters of the Chamelecon river poured into San Pedro Sula’s Planeta neighborhood before dawn Thursday.

In southern Mexico, across the border from Guatemala, 20 people died as heavy rains attributed to Eta caused mudslides and swelled streams and rivers, according to Chiapas state civil defense official Elías Morales Rodríguez.

The worst incident in Mexico occurred in the mountain township of Chenalho, where 10 people were swept away by a rain-swollen stream; their bodies were later found downstream.

Flooding in the neighboring state of Tabasco was so bad that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador cut short a trip to western Mexico and was flying to Tabasco, his home state, to oversee relief efforts.

Hurricane Eta’s arrival in northeast Nicaragua Tuesday followed days of drenching rain as it crawled toward shore. Its slow, meandering path north through Honduras pushed rivers over their banks.

Eta became the 12th hurricane of the year. Only three other full Atlantic seasons on record have seen more than 12 hurricanes: the 1969 season saw 12, 2005 saw 15, and 2010 saw 12, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. Klotzbach also said Eta joined Hurricane Laura as the strongest storms of this season.

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

The NHC is also tracking two more systems with moderate chances of forming into the next tropical or subtropical depression or storm.

The first is associated with a nontropical low pressure system located several hundred miles southwest of the Azores Islands in the central Atlantic Ocean, showing more signs of organization.

“This system will likely gradually acquire subtropical or tropical characteristics this week, and a tropical or subtropical storm could develop within a few days while this system moves eastward or east-northeastward over the northeastern Atlantic Ocean,” the NHC said in its 2 a.m. Monday update.

It gives it a 40% chance of formation over the next two days, and 60% chance within the next five days.

Closer to Florida but moving away from the state is a tropical wave forecast to move over the central Caribbean Sea from which an area of low pressure could form.

“Environmental conditions are forecast to be conducive for development, and a tropical depression could form late this week or over the weekend while the system moves slowly westward,” the NHC said.

It gives it a 50% chance of formation in the next five days.

If either did spin up to at least 39 mph, it would be named either Tropical or Subtropical Storm Theta, depending on which formed first. After Theta would come Iota.

Their formation would take the 2020 hurricane season further into record-breaking waters, with the most named storms in a single season.

Staff writers Paola Perez, Lynnette Cantos, Joe Mario Pedersen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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