HURRICANE ETA TO MENACE WEST FLORIDA WHILE IOTA IS LIKELY TO FORM IN THE CARIBBEAN
Hurricane Season 2020 refuses to quit.
Eta has once again become a hurricane as forecasting the track continues to be a challenge. It seems this storm is always on the knife’s edge of dying out or causing bigger problems. The storm put on a bust of strength overnight and this morning. It's heading north in the Gulf and edging closer to the west coast of the state.
Tropical Storm Warnings cover most of the west coast of Florida with a Hurricane Watch for the Tampa Bay area and points north. Winds are likely to gust over 50 mph over land and may reach 75 mph or more along the coast near and north of St. Petersburg – even if the center of Eta stays offshore.
Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Theta is churning the waters of the far eastern Atlantic heading in the direction of Europe.
And yet another storm is forecast to form this weekend or early next week in the Caribbean. Assuming it gets a name, which the long-range computer forecast models predict it will, it will become Tropical Storm Iota – the 30th named storm of the hurricane season. Which is beyond off the charts. All indications at this point are that Iota will stay in the Caribbean and take a track similar to Eta’s into Central America, but it’s too far out to be sure.
Hurricane Eta is under an atmospheric environment that is only moderately supportive of maintaining a storm of hurricane strength, so it’s not expected to get much stronger. The top winds are forecast to remain at or near hurricane strength – 75 mph plus or minus – today as it tracks ever closer to the west coast of Florida.
Upper-level winds are tilting Eta to the right, so the heavy rain and gusty winds are already over land. As the center of circulation edges closer and closer to the coast, the intensity of the rain and wind from the Fort Myers area north to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area will increase today.
The National Hurricane Center's storm surge forecast is for Gulf water to be pushed up over the coast 2 to 4 feet above normal high tides from just above Fort Myers to north of Tampa Bay – including inside both Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay.
Besides the change in track today closer to the coastline, the forecast forward speed has also picked up significantly. Eta is now predicted to hustle along so it’s center will be over north-central Florida tomorrow afternoon.
Eta’s circulation is pulling a thick band of moisture out of the tropics on the right side of the circulation, which covers the Florida peninsula. That’s why South Florida is still sweating in summertime humidity, and unfortunately, tropical downpours are still in the forecast.
Tomorrow, the atmospheric environment over the storm is expected to change. Upper-level winds are predicted to become increasingly hostile, allowing them to push dry air into the system. Weakening should begin when it’s near or just north of a position offshore of Tampa Bay.
The annoying problem is that a stronger Eta may take a little longer to wind down, so threatening conditions may well have a significant wind, rain, and storm-surge effect in metropolitan Tampa. Everyone, especially near the water, along the west coast needs to stay informed about local information and instructions. Conditions are going to deteriorate quickly today.
When Eta crosses North Florida tomorrow, the moisture tail that extends like a comma out of the storm will migrate back across the state, so the chance of some heavy rain in South Florida will increase once again. This will not be a repeat of last Sunday and Monday when the storm was close by, but it’s likely a band or two will affect us as Eta tracks toward the Atlantic off the Southeast U.S. coast.
The drying trend starts Friday, and much better weather is coming for South Florida, with a major cold front forecast next week.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Theta is heading in the direction of Europe. It will likely get absorbed into the jet stream before it gets there.
In the northeast Caribbean there is a disturbance that folks in Central America will be watching closely. The system is forecast to develop into a tropical depression in a few days and continue organizing into Tropical Storm Iota over the weekend or early next week. The atmosphere environment is forecast to be almost ideal for Iota to strengthen, perhaps into a hurricane.
The early forecast is a track toward Nicaragua or Honduras next week, but that’s in the long range and subject to change, of course. There is currently no indication that likely-Iota will turn north like Eta did after its trek over Central America.
Let’s hope that 30 is the magic number for 2020, but I wouldn’t bet on it.