Tropical Storm Eta, the 28th named storm of this year’s busy hurricane season, has strengthened and is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rains and dangerous storm surge to the Florida Keys and South Florida early Monday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Eta devastated portions of Central America, where it started Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, leaving more than 50 dead in its wake before weakening to a tropical depression. The storm passed over the Cayman Islands and the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday and made landfall on the south-central coast of Cuba early Sunday morning.
Eta was about 80 miles east of Key West late Sunday night, according to an advisory from the center. It was moving northwest at 14 miles per hour and had maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour.
It was expected to bring tropical storm and hurricane conditions, including heavy rains and dangerous flooding, as it approached the Florida Keys and South Florida. A life-threatening storm surge could occur in those areas as well as possible tornadoes, which are expected Sunday evening through Monday.
The storm could reach hurricane strength by the time it hits Florida, the National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm is set to make landfall in the Florida Keys late Sunday and early Monday.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the Florida coast from Golden Beach to Bonita Beach. A hurricane warning was also issued for the Florida Keys, from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for South Florida, from the Brevard and Volusia County line to Englewood, including Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee.
On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida declared a state of emergency for eight Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. All Covid-19 testing sites in Miami-Dade County have closed in preparation for the storm until further notice.
Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm had expanded since it hit Central America. Eta’s zigzag path, steered by high and low pressure systems, was not uncommon for storms that form later in the season, he said.
Mr. Feltgen said that Eta would pass over parts of South Florida early Monday morning.
Forecasters predict six to 12 inches of rain, with isolated instances of 18 inches possible, in parts of South and Central Florida. Tropical storm force winds were expected to arrive in Florida by Sunday night.
“We had some pretty heavy rain on the grounds here in October, so the ground is already pretty saturated,” Mr. Feltgen said. “We’re looking at the potential for a lot of urban flooding around here.”
On Sunday morning, the storm was 60 miles southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and 280 miles south-southeast of Miami. It was traveling northeast at about 12 miles per hour with wind speeds of 60 m.p.h., the advisory said.
“We always say there’s no such thing as just a tropical storm,” Mr. Feltgen said. “You can get some very serious impacts from a tropical storm. This is a very big, very serious rainfall event.”
Eta made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing devastation to portions of Central America with winds of up to 140 m.p.h. and heavy rainfall that reached 35 inches in some areas.
Flooding and mudslides contributed to at least 57 deaths in Guatemala, the country’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, said at a news conference on Thursday. One mudslide buried 25 houses with dozens trapped inside, according to The Associated Press.
Two miners were killed in mudslides in Nicaragua, The A.P. reported. In Honduras, a 12-year-old girl was killed when she became trapped in a mudslide.
The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression as it traveled over mountainous terrain, Mr. Feltgen said, but by Saturday it had strengthened again into a tropical storm.
With Eta, the unusually busy 2020 season tied the record for the most storms with 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma battered the Gulf Coast. That 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 was not identified until the season was over and it remained nameless. That last storm in 2005 was a subtropical storm that formed briefly in October near the Azores, a remote archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Eta followed Hurricane Zeta, which landed on Oct. 28 in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane, killing at least six people and causing widespread power outages in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas.
Azi Paybarah contributed reporting.