Hurricane Eta, the 28th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, is closing in on Central America. It will likely produce areas of major flooding and wind damage this week.
As of 10 a.m. EST Monday, Eta was centered about 140 miles northeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on the country’s northeastern coast. Eta’s eye could make landfall right over this area Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has issued a hurricane warning for the northern half of the Nicaraguan coast, as well as a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for northeastern Honduras.
Reconnaissance aircraft and satellite data indicate that Eta is rapidly strengthening. Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 110 mph (175 km/h), with higher gusts. This is a Category 2 storm for now. NHC meteorologists are forecasting Eta to become at least a Category 3 major hurricane prior to landfall, then weakening will begin after the system moves inland.
Hurricane-force winds extend up to 25 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 115 miles. Eta could grow in size, meaning hurricane- and tropical storm-force winds could spread out even farther from the eye.
Eta could move into the southern Gulf of Mexico this weekend as a tropical depression. But it may return to tropical storm or hurricane status, possibly hitting Florida next week.
Catastrophic wind damage is likely to begin Monday night in the hurricane warning area, where Eta’s eyewall will move onshore. Tropical storm conditions will develop in this region Monday afternoon.
The NHC expects tropical storm conditions in the tropical storm warning area by Monday afternoon, with hurricane conditions possible in the hurricane watch area by early Tuesday.
Eta could produce rainfall totals of 15 to 25 inches across much of Honduras and Nicaragua, with 10 to 20 inches in eastern Guatemala and Belize, in addition to portions of Panama and Costa Rica.
This rainfall could lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in high terrain areas. Flash flooding and river flooding are possible across Jamaica, southeastern Mexico, El Salvador, southern Haiti and the Cayman Islands.
Within the hurricane warning area, a dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels and 3 to 5 feet above normal tide levels along the coast of Honduras within the tropical storm warning area. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.
Impact on freight
Fortunately, there are no major global ports in Hurricane Eta’s likely path. However, widespread power outages will cause major disruptions in local and regional supply chains, as well as surface and air transportation.
Crop damage is likely in Nicaragua and Honduras and could extend to other countries in Central America depending upon the extent of the flooding.
Eta is the 28th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying 2005 for the most number of named storms (tropical storm and hurricanes) on record for a single season. Eta is also the 12th hurricane this season. Only the following seasons have produced 12 or more hurricanes: 1969, 2005 and 2010.