Hurricane forecast: As Eta fades, there's at least one Iota left in awful season | WeatherTiger
Tropical Storm Eta made landfall early Thursday morning at Cedar Key with 50 mph sustained winds, hopefully marking the final chapter for the U.S. of a grueling hurricane season.
As of Thursday afternoon, Eta has pulled east of Jacksonville as a minimal tropical storm. The system will continue racing northeast for the next 24 hours and become a non-tropical cyclone Friday after spreading heavy rainfall to the eastern Carolinas and coastal Virginia.
Friday is the end of a 14-day journey for Eta, which developed in the central Caribbean on Halloween and struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Election Day. Eta’s slow movement over Central America unleashed catastrophic flooding in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, and southern Mexico. Tragically, floodwaters destroyed entire towns, and rescue efforts are still ongoing.
In its second and third acts, Eta undertook a pair of flanking movements on Florida, registering landfalls at tropical storm strength in the Upper Keys late Sunday and Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast early Thursday. Remarkably, these landfalls were Florida’s first and second, but 12th and 13th for the continental U.S. coastline this year. (Sally technically crossed the coast in Gulf Shores, Alabama, despite bringing hurricane conditions to Pensacola.)
Landfalls this late in the year are quite rare, and Eta is only the 13th and 14th November strike on Florida since 1851. It is also the only storm other than Tropical Storm Gordon in 1994 to make twin Florida landfalls in November.
Eta’s impacts on the state were remarkably broad, extending over almost all of the peninsula while sparing the Panhandle. Remarkably, Wakulla and Jefferson Counties in the Big Bend are the only sections of coastline from Texas to Maine to not be under a watch or warning at some point this year.
Peak wind gusts from West Palm Beach, wrapping around South Florida, and up the Nature Coast were generally on the order of 50 to 65 mph. The biggest impact of these winds was significant storm surge, particularly in the Tampa Bay region. Inundation was up to four feet there, causing some coastal and urban flooding and auguring poorly for when a real hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast north of Tampa.
The other major impact of Eta was rainfall. Accumulations across the peninsula were a reasonable 1-2 inches for many, but much heavier in metro South Florida and west Central Florida. Peak totals in southern Broward and northern Miami-Dade Counties were over 15 inches, with widespread 5- to 10-inch tallies in the Tampa Bay area. Street flooding was common in these locations.
Eta is winding down, but it isn’t the only active tropical storm, or even the only storm containing “eta.” Tropical Storm Theta formed on Monday, breaking 2005's record for most named storms developing in one year.
The 29th storm of the head-spinning season, Theta is packing 65 mph winds over the eastern Atlantic and is no threat to land. It will become a non-tropical low-pressure system as it angles north of the Azores over the weekend.
Speaking for forecasters and coastal residents everywhere, it would be great if there was not one iota more of tropical activity this year. Unfortunately, continuing the trend of the 2020 making a mockery of both climatology and attempts at self-care, Tropical Storm Iota is highly likely to develop from a tropical wave in the Caribbean by the weekend.
Unfortunately, Iota may add more than an incremental amount to seasonal Accumulated Cyclone Energy totals, and is poised to strike regions of Central America still reeling from Eta’s impacts just one week ago.
The environment that the storm will be moving into this weekend is more similar to a normal October than mid-November Caribbean, and appears to be quite conducive for intensification. Iota may be a hurricane, even a powerful one, by the time it reaches Central America next week, where it could exacerbate existing flooding issues.
Strong ridging over the Gulf of Mexico over the next week and a half means Iota is unlikely to turn north towards the U.S. coast. Incredibly, even Iota may not be the end of the line, as there are some hints the Caribbean may keep churning out tropical storms into late November.
From a historical perspective, only four storms have struck Florida after November 15th in the last 170 years. However, it pains me to say this, but if something develops after Iota we’ll have to keep an eye on it as the Gulf high pressure could weaken beyond day 10.
On that note, I’m (hopefully) signing off from hurricane forecasting for the season. I’ll be back with a full season wrap-up whenever this season ends, and of course will cover any U.S. threats as conditions warrant.
In the meantime, stay safe, get some rest, and keep watching the skies.
Dr. Ryan Truchelut is chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger, a Tallahassee start-up providing advanced weather and climate analytics, forensic meteorology and expert witness consulting, and agricultural and hurricane forecasting subscription services. For more information, visit us at weathertiger.com or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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