After bringing deadly rainfall and flooding to parts of Central America, Eta on Thursday appeared to be on a path for South Florida, where the storm was expected to arrive early next week.
Eta, which made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, was downgraded to a tropical depression, but it was expected to strengthen again as it crossed the northwestern Caribbean Sea later this week.
The storm’s intensity and final trajectory remained uncertain, but it was projected to bring 15 to 20 inches of rain to Cuba, the Cayman Islands and South Florida. The National Hurricane Center’s model indicated that Eta would arrive in the Florida Keys by early Tuesday morning.
“Right now, the biggest problem with Eta is the horrific rainfall, which continues over Central America,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Two miners were killed in mudslides in Nicaragua, according to The Associated Press. In Honduras, a 12-year-old girl was killed when she became trapped in a mudslide.
Eta’s path recalled that of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 11,000 people, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua, in 1998. Heavy rains exacerbated by Mitch’s slow march across the region triggered devastating flooding and mudslides.
On Thursday, Eta remained over land in Central America, about 80 miles southwest of La Ceiba, a city on the northern coast of Honduras. It was expected to make a slow trek over the Caribbean by Friday before landing in Cuba on Sunday.
It continued to pose devastating threats to parts of Nicaragua and Honduras, where it was expected to drop an additional 15 to 20 inches of rain.
That “would bring an isolated maximum total of 40 inches of rain,” Mr. Feltgen said.
“At that point you measure in feet not inches,” he said. “That’s catastrophic, life-threatening flooding.”
By Monday, Eta could be over the Florida Straits, Mr. Feltgen said, stressing that its path remained uncertain.
Mr. Feltgen cautioned residents of Cuba, the Cayman Islands and South Florida to stay updated on Eta’s trajectory.
“We’re looking at a potentially big rainfall across South Florida and that’s already saturated ground,” he said. “So we’re looking at potentially a flooding situation across South Florida.”
Eta is the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season, which started in June and ends Nov. 30.
When Eta formed, the 2020 season tied a record set in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma battered the Gulf Coast. That year, so many storms grew strong enough to be named that meteorologists had to resort to the Greek alphabet after exhausting the list of rotating names maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
The agency never got to Eta in 2005, however. It named 27 storms that year and only later identified a qualifying subtropical storm that formed briefly in October near the Azores, a remote archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
This year, hurricanes and tropical storms pounded the Gulf Coast, where towns and cities recovered from one storm only to be hit by another one weeks later.
Hurricane Laura battered Lake Charles, La., in late August, and in October, Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana less than 20 miles east of where Laura had struck, slamming the area as it was still trying to recover.
In late October, Hurricane Zeta lashed the Louisiana coast with heavy rain and powerful winds. That storm was blamed for six deaths across the South and for widespread power failures in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas.
Kirk Semple, Austin Ramzy and Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.