As Eta was closing in on Florida’s west coast Wednesday morning, it briefly intensified back up to a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center’s special morning update.
This made Eta just the sixth November hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico.
Fortunately, by the 1 p.m. advisory Eta was back down to a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph. It was located 115 miles southwest of Tampa and moving north-northeast at 10 mph. Coastal locations were already being impacted by heavy squalls packing gusty winds and heavy tropical downpours rotating onshore.
A tornado watch was in effect for portions of Florida until 5 p.m. ET.
In addition, hurricane watches and storm surge warnings were also up for portions of the west coast of Florida, including Fort Myers and Tampa.
During the day Wednesday, the center of Eta is forecast to move closer to but stay just off the southwest coast of Florida. It will approach the west-central coast of Florida on Wednesday night, and move inland over the northern portion of the Florida Peninsula on Thursday.
According to the latest forecast, landfall is expected somewhere between Tampa and Cedar Key around sunrise Thursday as a strong tropical storm.
If Eta takes a sharper northeast turn during the day Wednesday, that would increase the likelihood for landfall to occur as early as Wednesday night and hit closer to Tampa.
Tropical storm conditions were expected to begin along the west coast of Florida on Wednesday afternoon, with hurricane conditions expected by early Thursday for the areas under the hurricane watches.
Storm surge is one of the bigger concerns. Onshore winds, combined with the water depth of the coastline off the west coast of Florida due to the shallow height rise of the continental shelf makes that area very vulnerable to storm surge. Some areas, including Tampa Bay, can expect up to 5 feet of storm surge.
Heavy rainfall is another concern. For western Florida through Friday, 2 to 4 inches with maximum storm total accumulations of 6 inches was possible. For northern and southern Florida: an additional 1 to 2 inches, with isolated maximum storm total accumulations of 4 inches was forecast.
Eta will cross the Florida Peninsula and is expected to move northeastward into the western Atlantic late Thursday or early Friday.
And there’s another system 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 will 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 Tuesday, breaking the all-time 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.