Eta, now back to tropical storm strength, slammed into Cuba by Sunday morning after leaving behind a trail of catastrophic damage and a rising death toll in Central America. The reorganizing tropical system is likely to continue strengthening and strike the Florida Keys and possibly the South Florida mainland as a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes.
Eta made its second landfall of its lifespan thus far after striking east-central Cuba Sunday morning as a strong tropical storm.
Tropical storm warnings and watches were issued for the Cayman Islands and Cuba on Friday morning. By Friday night, tropical storm watches had been extended northward to encompass Sebastian Inlet southward around the Florida Peninsula to Bonita Beach, Lake Okeechobee, the Keys and the Florida Bay. During the day on Saturday as Eta continued to strengthen, hurricane watches were put into effect all across South Florida.
A tropical storm warning is also in effect for the northwestern Bahamas. In Monroe County in Florida, a state of emergency was declared.
As of 7 a.m. EST Sunday, Eta was centered 280 miles south-southeast of Miami, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Present movement is to the north-northeast at 12 mph.
Satellite images showed that Eta was wasting no time gathering steam on Friday as thunderstorms continued to erupt east of Belize and north of Honduras. Waters were as warm as 84 F, which is plenty warm to allow the storm to strengthen. By Saturday morning, those thunderstorms had continued to organize and Eta began rapidly gaining strength as a tropical storm. However, now over the rugged terrain of Cuba, there has been a slight disorganization of Eta, at least in the short term.
Eta will still slam Cuba with life-threatening rain, wind and storm surge. Rainfall averaging 8-12 inches (200-300 millimeters) with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 16 inches (406 millimeters) are forecast with the greatest amounts over the mountains. Winds of 60-80 mph (97-129 km/h) are forecast over central Cuba with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 100 mph (160 km/h). A storm surge of 3-6 feet (1-2 meters) is expected along portions of the south-central coast, between around Trinidad, Cuba to the Gulf of Ana Maria.
The storm may have another opportunity to strengthen once it emerges over the Florida Straits to the north of Cuba during the day Sunday.
Because of the potential for Eta to regain hurricane status and the likelihood of torrential rain and the potential for life-threatening flooding, damaging winds and storm surge, forecasters have rated Eta as a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in Cuba and Florida. Unlike the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which only factors in winds to rate hurricanes, the RealImpact™ Scale takes a broad range of impacts and economic factors into account.
The system will emerge along the north coast of Cuba, most likely during the midday and afternoon hours on Sunday, and gusty winds are expected to raise seas in the waters between the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida. Overwash and downpours could lead to flooding, including in the city of Havana and perhaps as far away as Nassau in the Bahamas.
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.
One southwest Florida resident told AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor that people seem to be more caught up in following election and coronavirus news than preparing for Eta, but long lines were seen at grocery stores as people stocked up on necessities.
AccuWeather National Reporter Jonathan Petramala traveled to Doral, Florida to see how residents were preparing. Many were taking precautions by loading up on sandbags.
“We got flooded in the beginning of the year so I’m expecting flooding again,” Doral, Florida, resident Mario Cerice said while getting sandbags.
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