Some three weeks ago, around mid October 2020, a tropical wave emerged from Equatorial Africa over the far eastern waters of the Atlantic south of the Cape Verde Islands and started traveling westward along ‘hurricane alley’ toward the Windward Islands.

Satellite image (NOAA) of 1 November 2020 showing a strengthening Tropical Storm ETA southeast of Jamaica mowing west in the Caribbean toward Nicaragua/Honduras

Eventually this tropical wave began to get organized showing some cyclonic tendencies going into the Caribbean Sea where it became Tropical Depression TWENTY-NINE of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season, just southeast of Jamaica. By 31 October ‘TWENTY-NINE” continued gaining strength until it became Tropical Storm ETA in the early hours of 1 November moving west toward Nicaragua/Honduras.

Infrared-filtered satellite image (NOAA) taken 3 November 2020 at 1300 local time as the eye of then category 4 Hurricane ETA begins to make landfall in Nicaragua.

By 2 November ETA began to stall just offshore the coast of Nicaragua near the town of Bilwi (also know as Puerto Cabezas) rapidly gaining strength, going from tropical storm to a very strong category 4, bordering of category 5, hurricane ETA. All this time pummeling the coastal region of Nicaragua with extreme winds, life-threatening storm surge and wave impacts, while generating a deluge of rain extending from Panama to southern Mexico and to Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba. Truly a real monster of a storm. Finally on 3 November ETA made landfall some 20 kilometers south of Puerto Cabezas and began traversing northeastern Nicaragua, Honduras. eastern Guatemala and Belize over the next couple of days causing widespread flooding, landslides, plenty of damage, injuries and deaths, and significant human suffering.

By early 6 November ETA was back over the warm 30 Celsius waters of the northwestern Caribbean just offshore Belize moving in the east by northeast toward Grand Cayman and central Cuba, and South Florida and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. This convoluted track ETA has followed is not all that rare, the records show plenty of Caribbean tropical cyclones impacting Central America or the Yucatan to then veer off toward the Gulf or Florida.

Satellite image (NOAA) of 7 November 2020 at 0636 Miami time showing water vapor in the atmosphere to highlight the asymmetrical nature of ETA and the very large convection (rain) field east of its center, located some 450 km southwest of Grand Cayman in this image.

This early morning, Saturday 7 November 2020, ETA is a large asymmetrical tropical depression with a huge rain field south and east of its center located approximately 450 kilometers southwest of Grand Cayman, packing sustained 56 kph (35 mph) winds and a minimum central pressure of 1002 millibars.

ETA projected track as of 7 November 2020 at 0600 UTC (0100 Florida time) [courtesy of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, based on NOAA data]

Analysis of the National Hurricane Center’s forecast discussion shows ETA gaining strength , to tropical storm and near hurricane level as it crosses Central Cuba and emerges over the Florida straits where it will interact with a mid to upper level through now moving generally east-southeast in the Gulf of Mexico. The consensus of models show this interaction causing ETA to change its track north and then northwest toward the Florida Keys/South Florida and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico where it will degrade and lose strength.

This in a nutshell is what we expect may happen with ETA, based on model runs and analysis by the dedicated experts at the National Hurricane Center. Mother Nature is in charge, and it will ultimately decide what actually happens with tropical cyclone ETA, which about a month ago was just a puff of disturbed weather blowing from the Indian Ocean, some 15000 kilometers east from its current location, over the horn of Africa to become a tropical wave, then a tropical storm, and a major hurricane a week ago. Now we monitor ETA and need to remain alert. Be prepared. MITIGATE!

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