Erratic Eta heads toward second FL landfall as Category 1 hurricane

Eta moved throughout the Caribbean, ranging from a tropical depression to a deadly Category 4 hurricane, and made landfall twice in Florida. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Update: In its 1 p.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center downgraded Eta to its previous status as a tropical storm. 

The erratic, zigzagging storm called Eta briefly intensified to a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday morning as it headed toward a second landfall in Florida, expected Thursday, after cutting a deadly swath through central America and the Caribbean last week.

At 1 p.m., the National Hurricane Center downgraded it back to tropical-storm status, after maximum sustained winds dropped to 70 mph, just shy of the 75 mph threshold that had categorized it as a Cat 1 hurricane.

The Hurricane Center said Eta’s maximum sustained winds strengthened overnight to 75 mph, prompting hurricane watches, storm-surge warnings and tornado warnings for Florida’s west coast.

Winds at tropical-storm strength approached the state’s southwest coast this morning and are expected to intensify this evening, according to the Hurricane Center, a branch of the National Weather Service.

Storm-surge warnings and tropical storm warnings were issued from Suwannee River to Bonita Beach, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Storm surges are likely to be exacerbated by large and dangerous waves, according to the Hurricane Center’s 10 a.m. report.

Gov. Ron DeSantis requested federal pre-landfall emergency declarations for a swath of central and south Florida counties: Alachua, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hendry, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota and Sumter Counties.

Polk and Marion counties announced that schools there would be closed.

The Hurricane Center predicts rainfall accumulations could be 2-4 inches in west and central Florida by Friday, up to 6 inches total for the duration of the storm, up to 4 inches total in north Florida, and up to 20 inches total in south Florida.

The path of this hurricane has been hard to predict, but forecasters expect it will cross through central and north Florida as a tropical storm before exiting the mainland as a tropical depression.

Eta already made one landfall in Florida, on Sunday in Matecumbe Key, after blasting Central America and the Caribbean last week as a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane that killed more than 100 people, according to the Associated Press.

Eta set another weather record by becoming the 12th named Atlantic storm of the season to make landfall in the United States. It is the first to make landfall in Florida, although Hurricane Sally, which made landfall in Alabama, severely impacted northwest Florida.