Tropical Storm Eta, the 28th named storm of this year’s busy hurricane season, has strengthened and is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rains and dangerous storm surge to the Florida Keys and South Florida by late Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Eta devastated portions of Central America, where it started Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, leaving more than 50 dead in its wake before weakening to a tropical depression. The storm passed over the Cayman Islands and the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday and made landfall on the south-central coast of Cuba early Sunday morning.
It was expected to bring tropical storm conditions, including heavy rains and dangerous flooding, as it approached the Florida Keys and South Florida, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory issued on Sunday morning.
The storm could reach hurricane strength by the time it hits Florida, the center said.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach, and for the Florida Keys, from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for South Florida, from the Brevard and Volusia County line to Englewood, including Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee.
Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm had expanded since it hit Central America. Eta’s zigzag path, steered by high and low pressure systems, was not uncommon for storms that form later in the season, he said.
Forecasters predict six to 12 inches of rain, with isolated instances of 18 inches possible, in parts of South and Central Florida. Tropical storm force winds were expected to arrive in Florida by Sunday night.
“We had some pretty heavy rain on the grounds here in October, so the ground is already pretty saturated,” Mr. Feltgen said. “We’re looking at the potential for a lot of urban flooding around here.”
On Sunday morning, the storm was 60 miles southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and 280 miles south-southeast of Miami. It was traveling northeast at about 12 miles per hour with wind speeds of 60 m.p.h., the advisory said.
“We always say there’s no such thing as just a tropical storm,” Mr. Feltgen said. “You can get some very serious impacts from a tropical storm. This is a very big, very serious rainfall event.”
Eta made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing devastation to portions of Central America with winds of up to 140 m.p.h. and heavy rainfall that reached 35 inches in some areas.
Flooding and mudslides contributed to at least 57 deaths in Guatemala, the country’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, said at a news conference on Thursday. One mudslide buried 25 houses with dozens trapped inside, according to The Associated Press.
Two miners were killed in mudslides in Nicaragua, The A.P. reported. In Honduras, a 12-year-old girl was killed when she became trapped in a mudslide.
The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression as it traveled over mountainous terrain, Mr. Feltgen said, but by Saturday it had strengthened again into a tropical storm.
With Eta, the unusually busy 2020 season tied the record for the most storms with 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.