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Tropical Storm Eta approaches Florida Keys

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 8, 2020

By Chris Perkins, Brooke Baitinger, Wayne K. Roustan, Wells Dusenbury and David Fleshler Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A hurricane watch for coastal Broward County was canceled late Sunday afternoon, although weather was expected to worsen through the night as Tropical Storm Eta continues its approach to the Florida Keys.

Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties can expect strong winds, heavy rain and a chance of tornadoes from the storm’s unusually large wind field, which extends up to 175 miles from its center. A 68 mph gust was reported at Port Everglades and a 49 mph gust at the fishing pier in Lake Worth Beach.

“You see some of these rainbands pushing into places like West Palm Beach, Broward County, Miami-Dade County – some strong winds and intense rainfall in these areas,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, in a 4 p.m. EST briefing. “Also you can see 50 to 60 mph wind gusts. So brace for that.”

Tropical-force winds, which means speeds of at least 39 mph, were expected to continue in South Florida until about noon Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was still projected to reach hurricane strength, with winds of 75 mph, when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. A hurricane watch remained in place for Miami-Dade County, and Broward and Palm Beach County both remained under a tropical storm warning.

At 4 p.m. the storm was producing winds of 65 mph, with its center located about 140 southeast of Miami, according to the latest update Sunday from the National Hurricane Center.

South Florida can expect 6 to 9 inches of rain through Tuesday morning, with forecasters warning the region faces a high risk of flooding.

The Broward County School District announced Sunday that all classes will shift online for Monday due to Eta, while both in-person and My School Online were canceled in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. In addition, all school district offices in Palm Beach County will be closed Monday, Superintendent Robert Fennoy announced Sunday afternoon.

Broward Mayor Dale Holness said all non-emergency county government business operations will be closed Monday. But since a significant storm surge is not expected, he said there were no orders to evacuate coastal neighborhoods.

Holness urged caution.

“Do not go outside until conditions are safe and this storm has passed,” Holness said.

Fort Lauderdale and North Perry Airports are operating as normal, but passengers are encouraged to check for flight delays.

All Broward County bridges were locked down beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday and all COVID-19 testing sites are closed through Monday.

Broward County bus service will resume at noon Monday after it concludes its regular schedule Sunday.

There’s a chance high winds could cause power outages. Holness called for patience, if that’s the case.

“Restoring power will be challenging,” he said.

Eta moved off the north coast of Cuba and was tracking over the Florida Straits toward the Florida Keys Sunday afternoon. Although much of South Florida had been in earlier forecast tracks, the storm is now projected to pass farther south, crossing the Keys into the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida’s southeast coast lies within reach of the storm’s the northeast quadrant, which means the area is vulnerable to heavy rainfall and tornadoes. Eta is loaded with bad weather on its north and east sides.

Although no substantial storm surge is expected, flooding was possible along the coast and in low-lying areas. Broward County has been clearing storm drains and flushing water into canals to prepare for more rain in an already saturated South Florida.

The forecast track says Eta will turn northwest Sunday evening and then west early Monday.

Despite a pattern this year of storms seeing rapid intensification – defined by wind speeds increasing by at least 35 mph within 24 hours – conditions don’t appear favorable for Eta to follow suit. But forecasters warn, the exact track and intensity aren’t certain and the outlook could change.

The past five storms in the Atlantic basin – including Hurricane Eta before it struck Central America early this past week – have undergone rapid intensification.

Eta is likely to be gone from South Florida by late next week, sparing the area from a double-whammy of flooding rains during the next king tides cycle, which begins Nov. 14 and ends Nov. 18.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

“I think Eta should be pretty far removed from South Florida next Friday,” said Jonathan Erdman, digital meteorologist for the Weather Channel.

However, Molleda said power outages are possible and drivers on overpasses, especially in larger vehicles, should be aware of the potential for gusty winds.

Florida Power and Light announced Friday that its emergency plan was in place with about 10,000 personnel standing by to restore any power loss as quickly as possible.

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Eta weakened into a tropical depression Wednesday evening after making landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 major hurricane earlier this past week. The storm fell apart over Central America’s mountainous terrain but not before bringing life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flash flooding.

Eta will be the 12th hurricane of the year. Only three other full Atlantic seasons on record have seen more than 12 hurricanes.

It is the 28th named storm of the year, tying the 2005 season record for 28 storms of tropical storm strength or greater.

Eta could be the first storm of the season to make landfall in Florida. Louisiana, by contrast, has been hit with five named storms – Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, and Tropical Storms Cristobal and Marco.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center is monitoring a broad non-tropical area of low pressure that might be developing several hundred miles southwest of the Azores. The hurricane center said it could develop subtropical characteristics later this week as it moves east or east-northeast over the Atlantic Ocean, and gave it a 20% chance of formation over the next five days.

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