A tropical storm warning has been issued along the Gulf coast as far north as Manatee County as Eta made landfall, bringing heavy rains to flooded city streets in southeast Florida and the Keys after leaving scores of dead and over 100 missing in Mexico and Central America.
Forecast models differ, but some had Eta moving far out into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and intensifying into a hurricane late Monday or Tuesday then diminishing into a tropical storm as it heads north-northeast.
Across Tampa Bay, wind gusts have been 30 to 40 mph early this morning but were forecast to get stronger, said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez. Winds from Eta were strong enough to force the closure Monday morning of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Sarasot County schools were closed Monday.
The 4 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center upgraded the forecast for the Gulf coast from a tropical storm watch to a tropical storm warning, meaning conditions are generally right for a storm within 48 hours. A tropical storm brings winds of 39 mph to 73 mph.
Tropical storm conditions are possible in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday through Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Meantime, early morning showers in the Tampa Bay area might intensify into thunderstorms from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday with a rain chance of 60 percent and new precipitation of up to a quarter of an inch and more in case of thunderstorms. A high of 84 was forecast.
Rain chances fall to 20 percent Monday night but east winds of 18 to 21 mph and gusts as high as 26 mph were forecast. The chance of showers was 40 percent Tuesday and Wednesday, rising to 60 percent Thursday.
Even as Florida braces for Eta, forecasters are watching two other disturbances — one in the central Caribbean Sea and the other off western Africa. Each was given a 40 percent to 60 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression, storm or hurricane.
Eta had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph on Monday morning and was centered about 45 miles north-northwest of Key West and 65 miles south of Naples, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving west-northwest at 13 mph.
Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation shut down and some evacuations in place early Monday after Eta hit land late Sunday on Lower Matecumbe Key.
The system’s slow speed and heavy rains posed and enormous threat to South Florida, an area already drenched from more than 14 inches of rain last month. Eta could dump an additional 6 to 12 inches, forecasters said.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for mobile home parks, campgrounds and RV parks and those in low-lying areas. Several schools districts closed, saying roads were already too flooded and the winds could be too gusty for buses to transport students. Several shelters opened in Miami and the Keys.
“In some areas, the water isn’t pumping out as fast as it’s coming in,” warned Miami Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was in frequent contact with county water officials about the struggle to drain the flooded waters, which has stalled vehicles, whitewashed some intersections and even crept into some homes.
“Please take this storm seriously,” urged Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson. “Please don’t drive through flooded roadways.”
The storm swelled rivers and flooded coastal zones in Cuba, where 25,000 had been evacuated. But there were no reports of deaths. Authorities in Guatemala on Sunday raised the known death toll there to 27 from 15 and said more than 100 were missing, many of them in the landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz.
Local officials in Honduras reported 21 dead, though the national disaster agency had confirmed only eight.
Eta initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico were still surveying the damages following days of torrential rains during the week.
In Honduras, a 68-year-old woman died when the brown waters of the Chamelecon river poured into San Pedro Sula’s Planeta neighborhood before dawn Thursday.
In southern Mexico, across the border from Guatemala, 20 people died as heavy rains attributed to Eta caused mudslides and swelled streams and rivers, according to Chiapas state civil defense official Elías Morales Rodríguez.
– Information from the Associated Press was included in this report
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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