Tropical Storm Eta will gain strength as it moves north toward south Florida Monday before taking a twisting path across the Gulf of Mexico that will threaten the region for the rest of the week.
Eta made landfall in Cuba early Sunday with 65-mile-per-hour winds and heavy rains. While its strength has weakened, it will rebound once it gets back out over the ocean later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said. The tropical storm killed more than 50 people across Central America last week and left more than 100 others missing, according to the Associated Press.
The storm could clip the Florida Keys early Monday before drifting back in the Gulf where it will wander for days, possibly becoming a hurricane and probably making one or two more landfalls along Florida’s west coast by the end of the week, said Randy Adkins, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. The storm should become a Category 1 hurricane Monday.
“Hurricane conditions are expected in portions of the Florida Keys by early Monday, where a hurricane warning is now in effect,” the center said at 10 a.m.
If Eta makes landfall in the Florida Keys, or later along the Gulf of Mexico coast, it will be the 12th storm to strike the U.S. in 2020, adding to a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season that’s seen hundreds of deaths, billions of dollars in damage and a total of 28 storms.
The official hurricane center track forecast currently takes Eta on a backwards-question mark-like path through the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Its threat to offshore oil and natural gas production will probably be low.
For the U.S., Eta’s destruction probably won’t match the tragedy still unfolding across Central America. The U.S. economic tally will probably be less than $100 million in insured losses, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler for Enki Research.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared an emergency in advance of Eta. The tropical storm’s meandering track could mean a triple landfall for Florida, Adkins said. The first would be in the Keys, the second along the western coast and then finally into the Florida Panhandle or northern part of the state.
In addition to Eta, forecasters are also watching a second potential system in the central Atlantic that has a 20% chance of developing in the next five days. If that storm gathers enough strength to be named, it would be the 29th of the season, the most ever recorded in the Atlantic in records going back to 1851.
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