Uncertainty swirls around ETA

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A couple walks along the beach during a downpour, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, on Miami Beach, Florida’s famed South Beach. A strengthening Tropical Storm Eta cut across Cuba on Sunday, and forecasters say it’s likely to be a hurricane before hitting the Florida Keys Sunday night or Monday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) — Florida faces a second impact from Tropical Storm Eta later this week, but the path, along with the future strength of the storm, remains uncertain.

Eta, the record-tying 28th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, moved Monday into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico after saturating the Florida Keys and South Florida with rains up to 10 inches in some areas and leaving more than 40,000 electric customers without power.

But while those outages are expected to be quickly restored, it could be a day or two before it is clear how Eta will move through the gulf.

“Here’s the one thing I know for sure is that nobody knows what’s next for Tropical Storm Eta,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said Monday afternoon. “There’s tracks that take it from north of Tampa, to all the way to Louisiana. So, obviously, we would hate to see our friends in Louisiana, you know, deal with another one of these, but we also don’t want it to come into the Big Bend area (of Florida).”

Moskowitz said the state has been relatively lucky this year, but officials anticipated a number of named systems to crop up in November, which is the last month of the six-month storm season.

“The one thing that concerns me is that all year-round, the Gulf of Mexico has been a place that develops storms, they don’t just dissipate,” Moskowitz said. “So, we need to keep our guard up, everyone who is watching this, who potentially is in the path. This is why we say, get your seven days of supplies.”

The National Hurricane Center said Eta, which hit Nicaragua as a hurricane before heading toward Florida, could re-strengthen over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but the system could also be plagued by very dry air preventing rapid intensification back into a hurricane.

The cone of probability Monday morning for the storm’s future path ranged from Pensacola to Fort Myers, with the center line moving the system into the Big Bend region southeast of Tallahassee early Saturday.

“Eta could approach the Florida Gulf Coast later this week as a tropical storm, and possibly bring impacts from rain, wind, and storm surge,” the hurricane center said. “Interests in this area should monitor the progress of Eta and updates to the forecast this week.”

The National Weather Service in Tallassee tweeted Monday morning, “Hazardous marine conditions expected through the week over our Gulf waters.”

The U.S. Coast Guard placed the Port of St. Petersburg, Port Manatee and Port of Tampa Bay under condition “Yankee,” indicating gale force winds of 39 to 54 mph could arrive within 24 hours.

The hurricane center also was watching two other systems in the Atlantic on Monday, one south of Cuba with a 50 percent chance of formation in the next five days, the other in the mid-Atlantic, moving east with a 70 percent chance of formation. If either reaches tropical storm strength, the 2020 season would surpass the record of 28 named storms set in 2005.

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