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Tropical Depression Eta takes aim at Florida after battering Central America

Forecasters expect Eta to turn toward South Florida over the weekend, after which it will be yanked back west into the Gulf of Mexico. Where it goes from there could affect the Tampa Bay area’s weather.

Tropical storm warnings and watches were issued for the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba Friday as Tropical Depression Eta began its move toward Florida.

Before moving off shore and beginning its crawl to the east, Eta caused significant destruction in Central America. Dozens of people have been reported dead and dozens more are missing.

Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said tropical storm watches may be issued for South Florida as early as today or tonight. Eta is expected to regain tropical storm status sometime today.

Forecasters expect Eta to curl north toward South Florida over the weekend, after which it will be yanked back west into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Wind shear and land interaction will play a role in the future of Eta and the details in the location and timing of Eta will be very important to impacts we will feel here in Florida,” Marquez said. “It could take on some subtropical characteristics in a few days.”

Forecasters expect South Florida could see up to 10 inches of rain from the system. Once it gets back into the Gulf of Mexico early next week, it could bring high winds and heavy rain to the Tampa Bay area.

“If the center of Eta is in the portion of the cone closer to us, we would expect high winds and higher rainfall totals,” Marquez said. “If Eta ends up on the other end of the cone we would have much fewer impacts here.”

The spaghetti models for Tropical Depression Eta as of Friday morning.
The spaghetti models for Tropical Depression Eta as of Friday morning. [ Spectrum Bay News 9 ]

She said forecasters expect hazardous boating conditions over the Gulf of Mexico will begin late this weekend and last into next week.

Rain chances in the Tampa Bay area are only 10 percent today and will be between 30-40 percent over the weekend. They increase to 50-60 percent early next week. It also will be windy today through next week.

Here’s the full Associated Press report on Eta’s effects in Central America:

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — As the remnants of Hurricane Eta moved back over Caribbean waters, governments in Central America worked to tally the displaced and dead, and recover bodies from landslides and flooding that claimed dozens of lives from Guatemala to Panama.

It will be days before the true toll of Eta is known. Its torrential rains battered economies already strangled by the COVID-19 pandemic, took all from those who had little and laid bare the shortcomings of governments unable to aid their citizens and pleading for international assistance.

Shortly after Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández asked neighboring Guatemala for help rescuing residents stranded near their shared border Thursday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said at least 50 people had been killed in landslides in his own country, most of them in a remote town rescuers struggled to reach. Guatemala’s national emergency agency later said only that at least 50 people were missing in San Cristobal Verapaz.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast that parts of Nicaragua and Honduras could receive 15 to 25 inches of rain, with 40 inches possible in some isolated parts. On Friday morning, the storm was centered 65 miles east of Belize City.

A week of rain spoiled crops, washed away bridges and flooded homes across Central America. Hurricane Eta’s arrival Tuesday afternoon in northeast Nicaragua followed days of drenching rain as it crawled toward shore. Its slow, meandering path north through Honduras pushed rivers over their banks and pouring into neighborhoods where families were forced onto rooftops to wait for rescue.

Marta Julia Portillo, 62, fled her San Pedro Sula neighborhood before dawn Thursday with relatives. They paused at a gas station on dry ground until they were told to move on.

“We don’t know where to go because we don’t have any place to shelter,” she said. Her son, who stayed behind at the family home, told her water was up to the third floor.

“I would say the national capacity has been overwhelmed by the size of the impact we are seeing,” said Maite Matheu, Honduras director for the international humanitarian organization CARE. The group was using its network of contacts in Honduras to identify the hardest-hit areas and catalogue their most-pressing needs.

Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.  (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)
Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez) [ DELMER MARTINEZ | AP ]

Honduras Foreign Affairs minister Lisandro Rosales said via Twitter that “the destruction that Eta leaves us is enormous and public finances are at a critical moment because of COVID-19, we make a call to the international community to accelerate the process of recovery and reconstruction.”

Observers are already anticipating that the havoc wrought by Eta will pressure more people to migrate from countries that are already some of the primary senders of migrants to the United States border in recent years.

“Now with this situation, this is going to be an exodus, a massive exodus of migrants toward the north,” said Matheu.

A pregnant woman is carried out of an area flooded by water brought by Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.  (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)
A pregnant woman is carried out of an area flooded by water brought by Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez) [ DELMER MARTINEZ | AP ]

Early Friday, Tropical Depression Eta had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and was moving north at 7 mph. The forecast had it strengthening to a tropical storm before nearing the Cayman Islands Saturday and crossing Cuba Sunday. From there it could reach Florida or at least come close enough to assure heavy rains.

“Whatever comes out (of Central America) is going to linger awhile,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. “I’m not convinced we’re done with Eta.”

That’s because what’s left of Eta still has spin, which is hard to kill off, and that should help it reform, said NOAA hurricane and climate scientist Jim Kossin.

Once it reforms and heads toward Cuba, it could meander in the area for awhile.

“The winds aren’t going to be the problem. The rains are going to be the problem,” Klotzbach said.

Eta will be so big, wet and messy that it doesn’t have to make landfall in already rain-soaked South Florida to cause a mess, Klotzbach said.

“Slow-moving sprawling ugly tropical storms can certainly pack a precipitation wallop even if it doesn’t make landfall,” Klotzbach said.

--By CLAUDIO ESCALÓN and SONIA PÉREZ D. Associated Press. Pérez D. reported from Guatemala City. Associated Press writers Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

• • •

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

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