Eta was still a tropical depression on Friday as it continued to dump flooding rain on parts of Central America.
The National Hurricane Center said Eta could strengthen to a tropical storm overnight and will head northeast.
Cuba and the Cayman Islands will feel Eta’s effects first, and then the storm is forecast to head toward the Florida Keys and South Florida, where tropical storm watches were issued late Friday.
Forecasters continued to stress that Eta’s track is still uncertain, and it continues to shift.
As of late Friday it shows the center of what could be Tropical Storm Eta moving over central Cuba and then the Florida Keys. It has shifted northward a bit today and now shows the center very near the southwest Florida peninsula. However, all of the southern Florida peninsula is still in the cone of uncertainty, and thus not out of the woods. And it will likely get a dose of heavy rain from the storm even if its center stays offshore.
Tropical storm watches were issued for part of South Florida, the Keys and the Bahamas late Friday.
Eta could track near the Keys and South Florida by late Sunday.
Then the forecast shows Eta taking a turn to the west and heading out into the Gulf of Mexico, which is the last thing those along the northern Gulf Coast want to see.
It’s too soon to say if there will be any impacts to the northern Gulf Coast.
As of 9 p.m. CST Friday, Tropical Depression Eta was located about 275 miles west-southwest of Grand Cayman, and was moving northeast at 12 mph.
The depression had winds of 35 mph and was expected to strengthen to a tropical storm overnight. The hurricane center said Eta could get stronger through Sunday, but as of Friday it wasn’t expected to become a hurricane.
New late Friday were tropical storm watches for South Florida, the Keys and the Bahamas:
* A tropical storm watch for South Florida stretches from Jupiter Inlet southward on the east coast and from Bonita Beach southward on the west coast, including Lake Okeechobee.
* A tropical storm watch for the Florida Keys stretches from Ocean Reef southward to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
* A tropical storm watch for the Bahamas includes the Abacos, Andros Island, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island and New Providence.
A tropical storm warning continues for the Cayman Islands and the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Matanzas.
The hurricane center said more watches may be coming for parts of Florida on Saturday.
Eta struck Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane and has dropped extensive rain across Central America.
It may not be done raining there. The hurricane center said an additional 5 to 10 inches of rain will be possible in eastern Nicaragua and Honduras.
Here’s a look a flooding in Honduras:
The hurricane center said 5 to 10 inches of rain will also be possible for parts of South Florida, the Keys and the Bahamas over the weekend, with some areas getting up to 15 inches.
The National Weather Service in Mobile was keeping a close eye on Eta on Friday but said it was too soon to say how it could affect the Alabama coast, if at all.
“At this time, there remains large amounts of uncertainty with respect to the eventual track and intensity of Eta once it gets into the southeast Gulf of Mexico,” the weather service said in its morning forecast discussion.
“Later in the forecast period, another upper level trough across the western U.S. will move east. This should help to steer Eta northward and eventually northeastward towards the Gulf Coast. The speed and strength of the upper trough will ultimately determine the track of Eta. This may bring increased impacts to the local area, but there remains too much uncertainty at this time to provide any specifics.”
Forecasters said that a risk of rip currents will be in place through at least mid-week next week.