The eye had already retreated well into the Gulf of Mexico by late Monday morning, but still Tropical Storm Eta continued to douse south Florida and the Keys with torrential rains and strong winds.
Eta’s massive wind field stretched 310 miles from its center and covered the lower half of the state, bringing wind and rain as far north as the Tampa Bay area. Much of southern Florida has already seen more than 10 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 10 a.m. advisory.
But as forecast models for the storm’s path diverged, the Hurricane Center lifted tropical storm warnings that had stretched around the peninsula to the Gulf coast as far north as Manatee County.
Eta made its anticipated turn toward the southwest and a strong ridge of pressure across the Gulf of Mexico was expected to keep the storm moving that way, away from Florida, for the next 24 to 36 hours, the Hurricane Center said.
As of 7 p.m. Monday, the storm was moving toward the southwest at 14 mph and was expected to slow through the night. The tropical storm was expected to remain over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico through Wednesday.
In Tampa Bay, winds from Eta were strong enough to force the closure Monday morning of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It reopened just before 1 p.m. Sarasota County schools were closed Monday.
But forecasters expect winds to die down the rest of the week, as the storm lingers in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We aren’t going to call it windy we are just going to call it breezy now,” said Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay. "It will be very humid and we are going to continue to have on and off chances of showers.”
Beyond Wednesday, the forecast is in Eta’s hands. “Eta is really weak right now,” said Clay. "There’s a chance it could absolutely dissipate, but it could also move back north as a tropical storm later in the week.”
Even as Florida braces for Eta, forecasters are watching two other disturbances, including one that became a record breaker -- Subtropical Storm Theta formed in the northeast Atlantic late Monday. It is the 29th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, breaking the record for number of storms set in 2005.
A tropical wave in the central Caribbean Sea was given a 50 percent chance of developing in the next five days.
Eta had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph on Monday morning and was centered about 80 miles west-northwest of Key West at 10 a.m. Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving southwest at about 14 mph.
Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation shut down and some evacuations in place early Monday after Eta hit land late Sunday on Lower Matecumbe Key.
The system’s slow speed and heavy rains posed a threat to South Florida, an area already drenched from more than 14 inches of rain last month. Eta could dump an additional 6 to 12 inches, forecasters said.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for mobile home parks, campgrounds and RV parks and those in low-lying areas. Several schools districts closed, saying roads were already too flooded and the winds could be too gusty for buses to transport students. Several shelters opened in Miami and the Keys.
“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.
“Please take this storm seriously,” urged Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson. “Please don’t drive through flooded roadways.”
The storm swelled rivers and flooded coastal zones in Cuba, where 25,000 had been evacuated. But there were no reports of deaths. 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.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
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