Tropical Storm Eta barrelled toward Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday night, bringing heavy rain, wind and life-threatening storm surge as it was on track to make landfall for the second time in days.
The storm, which was 60 miles west-northwest of Tampa on Wednesday night, briefly intensified into a Category 1 hurricane earlier in the day, becoming just the sixth November hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the storm wasn’t expected to make a direct hit on the metro area of more than 3 million, but with an expected storm surge of as much as 4 feet, she urged residents in low-lying areas to find shelter at a county-run facility or with relatives.
“This is an unpredictable storm in a very unpredictable year,” she said.
At a briefing Tuesday night, Castor said she was told to expect little more than rain. But Wednesday morning brought gale-force winds, she said.
Videos posted by local authorities showed flooding in the area by Wednesday morning. By Wednesday night, a video from the Sarasota Police Department showed a central section of the city underwater.
Roughly 11,000 people in the region were without electricity Wednesday night, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration Wednesday allowing federal authorities to coordinate and mobilize disaster relief efforts across 13 counties.
As of 10 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said that Eta was moving north at 12 mph with 65 mph winds. Forecasters said the center of the storm was expected to remain just offshore Wednesday night and make landfall Thursday on the northern Gulf Coast.
The tropical storm warning covered a roughly 270-mile stretch of Florida’s west coast, from the Suwannee River in the north to Boca Grande, north of Fort Myers.
Two to 4 inches of rain were forecast across much of the region through Friday, though accumulations could top 6 inches in some areas.
Last week, the storm blasted Central America and Mexico after making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Nicaragua. More than 100 people were reported missing in Guatemala, and 27 were confirmed dead. In Honduras, another 21 had died, while in southern Mexico the storm left 20 dead.
Meanwhile, another system is brewing in the Caribbean.
The National Hurricane Center has tagged an area in the Caribbean Sea as Invest-98L. It has a 20 percent chance of development in two days and 80 percent in five days where a tropical depression could form late this week or weekend. Regardless of development, this system is expected to bring heavy rainfall along with possible flash flooding to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and portions of Hispaniola in the coming days.
If named, the next name on the list is Iota and it would become the 30th named storm of the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
This is following Subtropical Storm Theta which became the 29th named storm of 2020 on Tuesday, breaking the record for most in a single season. Theta remains in the central Atlantic and poses no threat to land.
Another way to frame the relentless hurricane season is to note that a mind-boggling 97.8 percent of coastline miles along the Gulf and the East coasts have been under tropical storm/hurricane advisories this year. Eta filled a gap of what was an unwarned area of the western Florida coast. Now, all that remains is a 100-mile stretch of Florida that remains untouched by tropical alerts this year.