Eta emerged from Cuba and into the warm waters of the Florida Straits on Sunday where restrengthening of the storm is expected to occur prior to its third strike on land -- this time, in the Florida Keys as a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes.
Eta made the second landfall of its lifespan thus far after striking east-central Cuba Sunday morning as a strong tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. The storm's first landfall was at Category 4 hurricane strength in Nicaragua last week.
Hurricane watches and warnings are in effect for the Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach and the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay. Tropical storm warnings are also in effect for portions of Florida, Cuba, and the northwestern Bahamas.
As of 10 a.m. EST Sunday, Eta was centered 235 miles south-southeast of Miami, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. Present movement is to the north at 14 mph.
Satellite imagery on Sunday showed Eta less organized than a day prior due to interaction with Cuba as well as southwesterly wind shear, or the change in direction and/or speed of winds at increasing heights in the atmosphere. The wind shear was whisking the storm's robust thunderstorms north and east of the center of the storm.
This satellite imagery from Sunday morning, Nov. 8, 2020, shows Eta emerging from the northern coast of Cuba. (CIRA at Colorado State/GOES-East)
But, forecasters say that as the storm continues to move away from Cuba and conditions become more conducive for strengthening, Eta could reach Category 1 hurricane strength (maximum sustained winds of 74-95 mph) just prior to or after a projected landfall in the Florida Keys Sunday night. Regardless of exact intensity, South Florida will endure heavy rainfall, strong winds, storm surge flooding, and isolated tornadoes.
The Florida Keys and Peninsula have largely dodged impacts amid a record-setting Atlantic hurricane season, which has spawned 28 named systems.
"Beyond Cuba, Eta is expected to take a westward turn Sunday night into Monday as it moves into the Florida Straits and across the Keys," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
Officials have been asking Floridians to take precautions ahead of the storm. Crews spent Thursday cleaning storm drains in Miami Beach in anticipation of Eta. Meanwhile, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, distributed free sandbags to residents on Friday.
In preparation for the storm, the City of Miami's COVID-19 Mobile Testing Unit (MTU) and Mobile Testing Unit Call Center will be closed Monday, Nov. 9. Operations are expected to resume on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Soaking rain was already beginning to move across South Florida Sunday morning, and rain and wind will only increase heading into Monday as Eta closes in.
Eta, likely as a strong tropical storm (maximum sustained winds 37-73 mph) or Category 1 hurricane strength, will bring wind gusts of 60-70 mph across South Florida and the Florida Keys, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 90 mph, into Monday. This can cause damage to trees and power lines and cause any loose objects such as lawn furniture and trash cans to become dangerous projectiles.
A more broad swath of 40- to 60-mph wind gusts is expected to extend into central Florida by early Monday, especially along the coastal regions, with localized damage possible.
Heavy rain from Eta, totaling 4-8 inches across a broad area of South Florida with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 12 inches, is expected to cause flooding problems, particularly in poor drainage areas.
"In Miami, the heavy rain combined with the strong and persistent easterly (onshore) wind will likely lead to more significant flooding in immediate coastal areas," Pydynowski said.
Forecasters expect a 1- to 3-foot storm surge to batter coastal areas of southwestern and South Florida. Coastal concerns will be just as high even far away from the center of the storm as persistent and strong easterly winds push water onshore along the east coast of Florida. A storm surge watch is in effect from Golden Beach to Bonita Beach, including Biscayne Bay, while a storm surge warning is in effect for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
"In addition, due to a strong easterly (onshore) flow between Eta and a large high pressure area centered farther north over the mid-Atlantic states, minor coastal flooding, and beach erosion can occur along the beaches of Georgia, South Carolina and southern North Carolina around times of high tide through Monday," Pydynowski said.
As is typically the case with tropical systems, there will be the risk of an isolated tornado or two being spawned in any rainbands north and east of the center of the storm.
Due to the threat for heavy, flooding rainfall, damaging winds, storm surge, and a number of other economic factors, Eta will be a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes for Florida. The RealImpact™ Scale is a 6-point scale with ratings of less than one and 1 to 5. In contrast to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which classifies storms by wind speed only, the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale is based on a broad range of important factors.
Localized downpours will continue to pester the Sunshine State Monday night into Tuesday, but the center of Eta is expected to drift far enough westward to limit damaging wind impacts by that point. It is at this point that Eta's path becomes a bit less clear.
"Late in the week, a non-tropical storm moving through the eastern United States could draw Eta northward across the southeastern U.S.," Pydynowski said.
In this scenario, another U.S. landfall would be in play, this time somewhere along the upper Gulf Coast.
"However, if Eta misses the connection with this non-tropical storm passing to its north, Eta may then remain in the Gulf of Mexico into the upcoming weekend. At that point, it is possible Eta could continue to meander in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, perhaps drifting slowly to the west or even to the south," Pydynowski said.
A drift to the south and west could bring rain and wind to western Cuba later Monday into Tuesday, with a brush of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula possible. The storm may then sit and swirl over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico for several days.
As a result of the possibilities that remain on the table with Eta's path this week, all interests from western Cuba to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and the southeastern U.S. should closely monitor the forecast in the coming days.
Eta has already made history and matched the strength of the strongest storm of the tumultuous 2020 hurricane season -- Hurricane Laura -- when its winds peaked at 150 mph prior to slamming Central America earlier last week. Eta joined the ranks of eight other tropical systems in the Atlantic this season and underwent rapid strengthening, which is defined by a tropical system that experiences an increase in its maximum sustained winds by 35 mph within 24 hours. Its winds increased from 70 mph to 150 mph -- just shy of Category 5 strength -- in just 24 hours.
Hurricane season doesn't officially end until Nov. 30.
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