Tropical Storm Eta is getting stronger.
The National Hurricane Center said Eta’s winds were at 65 mph as of Saturday night, up from 50 mph earlier this morning. Forecasters said Eta could be near hurricane strength as it approaches Florida.
Eta is on a path that will take it over Cuba tonight and into Sunday.
The latest forecast track from the hurricane center takes Eta over some of the Florida Keys and very close to the west coast of South Florida on Monday. However, more track shifts may be in the making as of Saturday night.
Hurricane and storm surge watches were issued for parts of South Florida and the Keys on Saturday. Tropical storm watches have also been upgraded to warnings for part of South Florida, the Keys and the northwestern Bahamas and continue for Cuba and the Cayman Islands.
Forecasters said there is still uncertainty about how close the Eta’s center will come to South Florida and the Florida Keys. Computer forecast models have shifted their tracks to the south and the west as of late Saturday. The official forecast track has shifted some as well, but not as far as some models have suggested.
After passing South Florida Eta will head into the Gulf of Mexico, and the real speculation begins.
The hurricane center said models have also shifted Eta’s long-range track late Saturday and more changes are possible: “Beyond Florida, this one of those times where the track uncertainty is much larger than normal, so check back tomorrow for further updates as big long-range changes are possible,” forecasters said.
The hurricane center’s forecast track shows the center of Eta, still as a tropical storm, in the east-central Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday.
However, it’s still too soon to say exactly how Eta will affect the Gulf Coast and Alabama (if at all).
As of 9 p.m. CST Saturday, the center of Tropical Storm Eta was located about 355 miles south of Miami and was tracking northeast at 13 mph.
Eta had top winds up to 65 mph.
The hurricane center said Eta’s wind field has expanded again and now tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles from the center.
As of Saturday Eta is not expected to become a hurricane but could peak as a strong tropical storm with 65 mph winds. It could weaken by the time it’s in the central Gulf.
Eta has brought devastating flooding to parts of Central America, and the hurricane center said an additional 2 to 5 inches will be possible in eastern Honduras and Nicaragua through Thursday morning. Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Nicaragua on Tuesday with 140 mph winds.
Eta will also be a big rainmaker for South Florida. Five to 10 inches will be possible for that part of the Sunshine State and the Keys as well as the Bahamas. Isolated areas could get up to 25 inches through Thursday.
Eta could also bring some storm surge to South Florida. Two to 3 feet of surge will be possible from Marco Island to North Miami Beach, including Biscayne Bay. Two to 3 feet will also be possible in the Keys.
One to 2 feet of surge will also be possible from North Miami Beach to the Flagler-Volusia county line on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Tropical storm conditions will be possible in the Keys and South Florida on Sunday into Sunday night.
* A storm surge watch is in effect for the Florida coast from Golden Beach to Bonita Beach, including Biscayne Bay; the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
* A hurricane watch is in effect for the Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach; the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
* A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Matanzas; the northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Andros Island, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island and New Providence; the Florida coast from the Brevard/Volusia County line to Englewood including Florida Bay; the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas; Lake Okeechobee.
* A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth and Florida coast from north of Englewood to Anna Maria Island.
Gulf Coast forecasters were keeping a close eye on Eta as well and hoping to avoid another bout with a tropical system this season.
Unfortunately it’s still too soon to know how Eta will affect the Gulf Coast.
The National Weather Service in Mobile said there still is a large amount of uncertainty about the eventual track and intensity of the storm once it’s in the Gulf.
Eta could be steered toward the northern Gulf Coast, or it could dissipate altogether, forecasters added, but it’s just too soon to say.
Forecasters expect a high risk of rip currents along the Alabama and northwest Florida coasts to persist into at least Monday and increasing rain chances later next week.
The hurricane center is also watching one other area in the Atlantic for possible development on Saturday.
Forecasters think an area of low pressure could form in the central Atlantic southwest of the Azores early next week.
It is expected to head eastward through the middle of next week and has a 20 percent chance of strengthening to a tropical depression during that time.
The Atlantic hurricane season will come to an end on Nov. 30.