Eta expected to weaken as it moves fully onshore
Forecasters predicted that Hurricane Eta, whose eye began making landfall along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua midafternoon Tuesday, would rapidly lose power as soon as the center had fully moved onshore.
By early Wednesday, it was expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it carved a path through northern Nicaragua, and weaken further to a tropical depression by Wednesday night as it moved into southern Honduras, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said on Tuesday afternoon.
Despite the expected downgrading, the slow-moving storm would remain “an extremely serious threat” over the next couple of days, producing torrential rains and inland flooding, the center said.
At 4 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, the hurricane still retained its Category 4 rating, packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, dumping torrential rain, destroying buildings, felling trees, knocking out power and cellphone grids, and causing floods.
While the Nicaraguan authorities said they had received no reports of deaths caused by the storm, Honduran officials said a 12-year-old girl was trapped in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras, The Associated Press reported.
The storm was moving in a westerly direction at about five miles per hour on Thursday afternoon and was expected to pick up speed as it traveled further inland, maintaining a westward or west-northwestward trajectory before veering to the north, forecasters said. It was then expected to swing north-northeast later in the week and head back out into the Caribbean on Thursday night or Friday.
“Through Friday evening, heavy rainfall from Eta will lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding across portions of Central America, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the center said.
The agency also warned about possible flash flooding and overflowing rivers in Jamaica, southern Mexico, El Salvador, southern Haiti and the Cayman Islands.
The hurricane’s eye is moving ashore.
The eye of Hurricane Eta was making landfall along the northeastern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua around midafternoon Tuesday, battering the region’s impoverished coastal populations with heavy rain and fierce winds, officials said.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that as of 4 p.m. Eastern time, the swirling heart of the Category 4 hurricane was moving ashore just south of the port town of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, traveling west at about five miles per hour.
Puerto Cabezas, with a mainly Indigenous population that depends largely on fishing, had suffered more than a dozen hours in the storm, beginning late Monday night. Many of the town’s residents live in vulnerable structures made of wood planks, and dozens of these homes had suffered extensive damage as the wind blasted apart walls and tore off roofs.
The storm had also knocked out power to some parts of the region and caused rivers to swell, threatening floods.
But many residents, instead of trying to ride out the hurricane in their homes, sought shelter in churches, schools and other more secure buildings. And the Nicaraguan authorities in the capital, Managua, said late Tuesday morning that despite the storm’s ferocity, they had received no reports of deaths.
A hurricane warning was in effect for a stretch of the Nicaraguan coast from the border with Honduras in the north to Sandy Bay Sirpi.
In addition to catastrophic wind damage, forecasters said the hurricane could dump as much as 25 inches of rain on much of Nicaragua and Honduras, with volumes reaching 35 inches in some locations. Eastern Guatemala and Belize were expected to receive between 10 and 20 inches, while portions of Panama and Costa Rica could see between 10 and 15 inches.
Forecasters also warned of a storm surge of as much as 21 feet above normal tide levels along the Nicaragua coast, and swells causing “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” along the Caribbean coast in Central America and the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.
It’s been a busy hurricane season in the Atlantic.
Eta is the 28th named storm — and the 12th hurricane — in the Atlantic hurricane season, and has tied a record set in 2005 for the most storms that have grown strong enough to be named.
Only three other Atlantic hurricane seasons on record have had at least 12 hurricanes — 1969 (12 hurricanes); 2005 (15 hurricanes); and 2010 (12 hurricanes) — said Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
In 2005, as with this year, so many storms grew strong enough to be named that meteorologists had to resort to the Greek alphabet after exhausting the list of rotating names maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
The agency never got to Eta, however, because the 28th storm of that year, a subtropical storm that formed briefly in October near the Azores, was not identified until the season was over.
With about a month left in the 2020 hurricane season, the 2005 record for the most named storms is likely to be broken, Mr. Klotzbach said.
“The odds certainly favor another storm or two forming in November,” he said. “The large-scale environment, especially in the Caribbean, is forecast to remain more conducive than normal for this late in the hurricane season.”
Eta followed Hurricane Zeta, which landed on Oct. 28 in Louisiana as a Category 2 storm, killing at least six people and causing widespread power outages in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The hurricanes of 2020 have not matched the intensity of the storms of 2005. That year, eight storms became major hurricanes, which are defined as those that reach Category 3 or higher. But the effects of the 2020 season across the South of the United States have been widespread.
Hurricane Laura battered Lake Charles, La., in late August; Hurricane Sally lashed the Florida Panhandle with a deluge of rain in September; and Hurricane Delta made landfall in October in Louisiana less than 20 miles east of where Laura struck, slamming the area as it was still trying to recover.
Government scientists pointed to factors like higher-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, a strong African monsoon season and a reduced vertical wind shear, which means less wind variability at different altitudes that can disrupt the formation of storms.
Climate scientists say there are links between global warming and the intensity of hurricanes. As ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes grow stronger, with warm water serving as the fuel that powers them.
Nicaragua has begun evacuations and emergency aid.
The Nicaraguan authorities rushed on Monday to evacuate inhabitants from low-lying areas along the Caribbean coast and ship in emergency supplies as Hurricane Eta neared landfall.
The Nicaraguan government sent 88 tons of food to the port town of Puerto Cabezas ahead of the storm, according to Nicaragua’s national disaster response agency.
Officials also dispatched four trailers loaded with supplies including mattresses and hygiene kits, the agency said, and sent food supplies including rice, oil and protein supplements.
“In this way, the government of Nicaragua will be able to provide quick and effective humanitarian aid to families,” said Dr. Guillermo González, the director of the agency, the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Attention.
Officials said that more than 3,000 families had been evacuated from coastal areas, according to local press reports. In Honduras, evacuations were also underway on Monday, and severe weather conditions had forced the closure of some ports, Reuters reported.
Forecasts include ‘jaw-dropping’ levels of rain.
Eta is bringing powerful winds and a huge storm surge as it menaces coastal areas in Honduras and Nicaragua. But the hurricane is also expected to cause damage farther inland, as it churns across Central America and back out into the Caribbean.
The expected path of Eta recalls Hurricane Mitch, from 1998, which killed more than 11,000 people, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua. Heavy rains exacerbated by Mitch’s slow march across the region triggered devastating flooding and mudslides.
“While it is interesting #Eta has tied the 2005 named storm record, much more serious is the extreme rain event in Nicaragua and Honduras,” Eric Blake, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “A forecast of 30 inches of rain is jaw-dropping, and we could be looking at one of the worst flooding disasters there since Mitch.”