In Guatemala, at least 50 people were reported missing after a landslide buried homes in the community of San Cristóbal Verapaz, while roadways elsewhere in the country were blocked or washed out, the AP reported. Some residents were unaware of the impending storm, blaming the government for a lack of warning.
Now a tropical depression, Eta has had its structure shredded after grinding through Central America. It was emerging over the Gulf of Honduras in the western Caribbean on Friday morning, set to redevelop into a tropical storm while passing over toasty ocean waters. Cuba, South Florida and parts of the Gulf Coast could be facing a stubbornly long-lived system.
In Florida, heavy rain and flooding will be the primary hazards this weekend into early next week, although tropical storm-force winds could cause concern in some areas.
At 10 a.m. Friday, Eta had winds of 35 mph as it slipped offshore east of Belize. The system was moving north at 7 mph.
On satellite, Eta was considerably healthier than it was on Thursday, when the system was limping along over land. Now, robust convection, or shower and thunderstorm activity, has produced a shied of tall, cold cloud tops visible from above.
Also discernible were hints of upper-level outflow, or the evacuation of “spent” air at the high levels. This was evident in the transverse banding, or strips of cloud cover, that was radiating away from the storm on its northwest side. By getting rid of the air that was no longer useful to it, Eta will have an increased ability to intensify by drawing in more air at the low levels.
Eta to track northeast over Cuba and toward South Florida
Eta will probably become a tropical storm again by Friday evening as it drifts northeast across the Caribbean. While much of the North Atlantic has cooled, thanks to the changing seasons, pockets of the western Caribbean are sufficiently warm to support Eta’s re-intensification. The Cayman Islands are under a tropical storm warning, with local rainfall totals of 10 to 20 inches possible by the latter half of the weekend.
The incipient tropical storm will probably pass near or just west of the Cayman Islands during the late morning and early afternoon on Saturday, with breezy winds and rain squalls affecting the islands. Heavy rain and gusty winds will buffet western and central Cuba by evening, where a tropical storm watch is in effect.
Some models indicate rainfall totals of 10 to 15 inches are possible, the heaviest likely to fall in the central part of Cuba. Cities like Sancti Spiritus, Camaguey and Morón could see localized flooding.
While probably intact but mildly disheveled after hitting land, Eta probably will again move over water on Sunday morning, probably tracking through the Florida Straits and packing rain and wind. The National Hurricane Center forecasts maximum winds near the storm’s center could be near 60 mph by that point, although the center may remain offshore.
That’s around the time when uncertainty in the forecast spikes. We know that Eta is likely to linger, but it is unclear where. Eta’s track will at some point be bent west around an upper-level, low-pressure system parked over the Gulf of Mexico. If it takes that left turn sooner, the reorganizing storm could pass over the Florida Keys into the eastern Gulf. But if it turns too slowly, it would move over the southern Florida Peninsula and bring a greater impact to Miami.
The National Weather Service forecast office in Miami tweeted that “the potential for heavy rainfall and gusty winds from #Eta continues to increase.” Occasional showers could begin in South Florida as soon as late Friday, while the heaviest rain is expected during the second half of Saturday through Monday.
Parts of South Florida could see 5 to 10 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts.
Flood watches are in effect for southeast Florida from around West Palm Beach to Miami. “The grounds are also still somewhat saturated from the late October rains over the eastern areas of South Florida,” the Weather Service wrote in a discussion. “Therefore, it will not take much to cause flooding over the region especially over the east coast metro areas.”
Gulf of Mexico
In the event that Eta makes it into the Gulf of Mexico next week, its intensity would likely be capped — meaning the atmosphere would probably be unable to support anything above a high-end tropical storm or a low-end hurricane. That’s because the storm will be encountering cooler sea surface temperatures and, more important, wind shear — a disruptive change in wind speed and/or direction with height.
It is 2020 after all though, and the hurricane season to date has been filled with a litany of surprises. Eta’s forecast will probably evolve in the days ahead.
Eta stunned the world on Monday night when it flirted with Category 5 status in the western Caribbean. In the prior 24 hours, it had lurched 70 mph in intensity, twice the rate needed to classify as “rapid intensification.” It was a move unprecedented for so late in the season, and it has been matched by only four other Atlantic hurricanes on record.
It’s the 28th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying a record for the busiest season ever observed. One system more will bring us into uncharted territory.
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.