Tropical Storm Eta headed deeper into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday night with winds down to 50 mph after making landfall in the Florida Keys last night.
Eta could get a bit stronger through Wednesday but should weaken after that. However, the National Hurricane Center added late Monday that there’s a possibility Eta could briefly become a hurricane again over the southeastern Gulf.
Forecasters think it will eventually head northward, but the Monday night track forecast from the hurricane center shifts Eta’s track to the west and slows it down. Whereas Eta had been forecast to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area on Saturday, now it shows the storm still offshore by Saturday but south of Panama City, Fla.
The forecast also suggests that Eta will weaken and be a tropical depression by that point.
The cone of uncertainty has also shifted west and now includes Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana’s coastal areas.
The hurricane center noted that confidence in the long-range forecast track is lower than ususal.
Could the track shift more to the west? It’s not out of the question. The hurricane center said its official forecast track sits to the east of the model consensus: “The new official forecast track is to the left or west of the previous advisory track, but not as far west as the consensus models, which take a significantly weaker and more shallow cyclone toward the north-central Gulf coast."
Eta made its third landfall on Sunday night on Lower Matecumbe Key in the Florida Keys as a strong tropical storm with maximum winds estimated to be near 65 mph, according to the hurricane center.
Its first landfall was as a Category 4 hurricane last Tuesday in Nicaragua. It made a second landfall in central Cuba early Sunday morning as a tropical storm with 65 mph winds.
It has brought extensive flooding to parts of the Keys and South Florida this weekend.
The National Weather Service in Mobile said it was too soon to say if Eta could affect Alabama, but a high risk of rip currents will persist all week and rain chances are expected to climb later in the week for Alabama coastal areas. If the current forecast track holds, however, Alabama could end up on the “dry” side of the storm.
As of 9 p.m. CST Monday, Tropical Storm Eta was located about 180 miles southwest of the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys, and was moving southwest at 9 mph.
Eta had winds of 50 mph as of Monday night, down from 65 mph earlier today. The hurricane center said some strengthening will be possible tonight and into Tuesday.
The hurricane center thinks Eta will begin to weaken on Wednesday and could continue to weaken through the end of the week.
Hurricane and tropical storm warnings have been dropped for all of the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula as of Monday afternoon.
Only a tropical storm watch remains for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth.
Eta is expected to meander over the southern Gulf for the next few days. On the hurricane center’s forecast track the storm will move away from Florida today and stay out over the southeastern Gulf through Wednesday.
It is expected to turn more to the north by then and then could head northeast. The long-range forecast shows Eta still offshore but south of Panama City, on Saturday as a tropical depression.
Eta has been a big rainmaker more than anything for Florida, and more rain is expected for Florida this week.
Central and South Florida could get an additional 1 to 3 inches of rain from Eta through Saturday.
Parts of South Florida could end up with 18 inches of rain from Eta before it’s over, the hurricane center said.
Unfortunately Eta isn’t the only thing to watch in the Atlantic:
The hurricane center is also tracking not one but two other tropical waves, and both have medium to high chances of developing into tropical depressions.
The first one is nothing for the U.S. to worry about. It was located several hundred miles southwest of the Azores on Monday and was looking more organized.
Forecasters said it could become a tropical or subtropical storm tonight or on Tuesday while it heads to the east or northeast. They raised the chances of that happening to 90 percent over five days on Monday afternoon.
The second area is in the Caribbean. A tropical wave forecast to move over the central Caribbean could also become a tropical depression by late this week as it moves westward, forecasters said.
The next names on the storm list, incidentally, are Theta and Iota.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.