(Tribune News Service) — South Florida can expect more rain from the outer bands of Tropical Storm Eta, which made landfall early Thursday near Cedar Key on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Eta came ashore at around 4:20 a.m. with winds of 50 mph and moving at 13 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Eta's tropical-storm-force winds stretch out over 115 miles.
An additional 1 to 3 inches of rain is expected across portions of the Florida Peninsula through Thursday, bringing South Florida's isolated total rain accumulation from Eta in the range of 20 to 25 inches, experts said.
Forecasters expect Eta to cut across the state Thursday, so it's possible that the East Coast, from Daytona Beach to Georgia, could see tropical storm conditions over the next 36 hours or so. A tropical storm warning remains in effect from the Flager/ Volusia County line north to St. Andrews Sound in Georgia.
Eta has the potential for a dangerous storm surge of up to 4 feet that could occur anywhere from the middle of Longboat Key to Suwannee River, including Tampa Bay, forecasters said. The area is under a storm surge warning.
Storm-shredding wind shear and dry air are expected to cause Eta to rapidly weaken.
A tropical storm watch is in place for Florida's Gulf Coast from north of the Suwannee River to the Aucilla River.
South Florida may also experience king tides, the seasonal high tides that can flood coastal neighborhoods, as early as Thursday.
Eta was 10 miles southwest of Jacksonville, moving at a fast clip of 15 mph, as of 10 a.m. Thursday. Its maximum sustained winds were holding steady at 45 mph.
By late Friday, a weakened Eta is expected to be out over the mid- Atlantic.
Thursday's landfall is Eta's fourth, having come ashore in the Florida Keys late Sunday, in Cuba early Sunday, and in Nicaragua on Nov. 4 as a Category 4 hurricane.
Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his state of emergency declaration to add counties from the Gulf Coast and north-central Florida to the list of counties already added from the storm's initial impact on South Florida. It now includes Alachua, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hendry, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota and Sumter counties.
President Donald Trump approved DeSantis' request for a federal declaration of emergency, freeing up money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal aid will be available in Alachua, Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hernando, Hillsborough, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota and Sumter counties, a FEMA news release said.
South Florida spent the better part of Wednesday under a variety of warnings and watches, including severe weather advisories and tornado warnings in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Tampa International Airport suspended flights beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Flights are scheduled to resume at noon Thursday.
There's also a possible area of disturbance, Invest 98L, in the southwest Caribbean near where Eta formed. It has a 90% chance of developing into a tropical depression late this week or this weekend, according to forecasters — but it's not expected to move northward and threaten the U.S.
AccuWeather meteorologist Derek Witt said the prevailing weather pattern isn't conducive for the system to head north toward the United States in the next few days.
"At least through this week and this weekend," Witt said Wednesday, "we expect it to remain down in the Caribbean and move west.
Eta was the first storm of the 2020 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.
The storm came first came ashore in Florida on Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada, on Nov. 8. Its wind field was so wide, reaching up to 310 miles from the storm's center, that it brought heavy rain and dangerous winds to Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Tropical Storm Theta, the season's record-breaking 29th named storm, was producing top winds of 65 mph near the Azores on Thursday, hundreds of miles west of Portugal.
Theta storm broke the previous record of 28 named storms set in the 2005 season, according to the National Hurricane Center.
This is the latest in the season that there have been two named storms in the Atlantic since 1887, according to professor Jennifer Collins of the University of South Florida.
The next named storm would be Iota.
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