Tropical Storm Eta is gone.
Nearly two weeks after it formed as a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea, and just a day after it made landfall just north of Tampa Bay, 2020′s 28th named storm crossed Florida and by early afternoon had headed into the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of the Florida-Georgia border, according to the National Hurricane Center.
As of 1 p.m., according to the center, it was still a tropical storm, but most of its winds of up to 40 mph were over the ocean. It’s expected to move ever faster to the northeast over the next couple of days, staying offshore of the Carolinas before heading well east of the mid-Atlantic coast Friday. All tropical storm warnings were discontinued.
Eta was a surprise: Many in the Tampa Bay area went to bed Tuesday having heard that the storm would stay well offshore, then awoke Wednesday to news that its path had swerved, putting them in the line of fire. It made landfall four times, including twice in Florida; it was a tropical storm, then a hurricane, then a tropical storm, then a hurricane, and then a tropical storm. Eta wreaked havoc most before reaching Florida: It hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and it killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico and left scores more missing.
On Wednesday and into Thursday, Eta brought a day and night of heavy rain, flooding and winds strong enough to close the Sunshine Skyway bridge. Tornado warnings blanketed much of the Tampa Bay area as it approached Wednesday afternoon. And by Thursday, the damage was becoming clear in some parts of the region.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies rescued 33 people from homes and roadways as floods inundated parts of Gulfport, Madeira Beach, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and elsewhere. The Skyway reopened, but some other major roads stayed closed.
The hurricane center’s 7 a.m. advisory warned that “life-threatening storm surge” remained a possibility and urged residents to heed warnings from local officials. By early afternoon, though, the National Weather Service was announcing the cancellations of coastal flood advisories.
Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said earlier Thursday that the Tampa Bay region could still see winds up to 20 mph as the storm moved across the state, but that skies should clear significantly by Friday, ushering in some cooler air for the weekend.
Eta made landfall as a tropical storm near Cedar Key with maximum sustained winds around 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In its 1 p.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center said parts of Florida could see 1 to 3 inches of rain for the rest of Thursday, and that localized flooding is still possible, especially in previously inundated areas. Minor river flooding is expected to last into the weekend.
Duke Energy was reporting about 10,000 customers without power in Pinellas County and about 1,000 in Pasco County by 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Tampa Electric Co. reported 1,180 customers without power. The numbers were as high as 36,000 across the Tampa Bay area overnight.
In St. Petersburg, winds gusted above 50 mph Wednesday night. Parts of Pinellas and Manatee counties were deluged by up to 7 inches of rain, according to Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure. Areas closer to the coast saw the most severe weather, McClure said.
Eta spent much of Wednesday morning as a hurricane as Floridians woke to gathering clouds and school closures. Courts and governmental agencies planned to shutter Thursday, and Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The airport was back to normal Thursday morning.
No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities opened shelters for anyone needing them. Local agencies only reported a handful of people checking in.
Sustained winds of 75 mph were recorded by Hurricane Hunter aircraft and radar, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 10 a.m. Wednesday update, making the storm a Category 1 hurricane. Just before 1 p.m., though, the hurricane center reported the system had weakened and was once again a tropical storm.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced early Wednesday afternoon that he’d expanded a State of Emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near Florida’s west coast, including all of Tampa Bay. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties had already declared their own states of emergency, and Hernando County announced its own just minutes after the governor’s order. Schools throughout the Tampa Bay area remained closed on Thursday, with some districts opting to have students continue lessons online.
Eta was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm, Theta, located far out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from the Azores.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.
2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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