Nov. 4 (UPI) — Eta weakened to a tropical storm early Wednesday after making landfall in Nicaragua as a powerful Category 4 hurricane a day prior.
Eta, the 28th named storm and 12th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, moved over Nicaragua Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said, threatening to cause “catastrophic” wind damage and a life-threatening storm surge.
But as it moved across the Caribbean nation it weakened and had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph by early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said in its 4 a.m. EST update.
The forecasters said Eta was located 90 miles west of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and was traveling west at 8 mph.
“The center of Eta is expected to move over northern Nicaragua through this morning, and then move across the central portions of Honduras through Thursday morning,” the NHC said. “The system is forecast to emerge over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Friday.”
The NHC said Tuesday that water levels could reach 14 to 21 feet above normal tide levels in some areas. Catastrophic flash flooding and landslides are expected through Friday evening in parts of Central America. Jamaica, southeast Mexico, El Salvador, southern Haiti, and the Cayman Islands also could see flash flooding and river flooding.
The NHC advised people in Cuba, southern Florida and the Florida keys to monitor the progress of the storm, which could regain tropical storm strength before approaching Florida this weekend.
The NHC warned Tuesday that Eta is “extremely dangerous.”
By Tuesday morning, the storm had already caused widespread power outages and triggered flooding in some of the country’s poorest regions, according to Nicaraguan officials.
A hurricane warning is in effect from the coast of Nicaragua from the Honduras-Nicaragua border to Sandy Bay Sirpi, the NHC said.
When Eta reached Category 4 strength, it achieved a rare feat for this late in the season. Only three Category 4 hurricanes — Lenny in 1999, Michelle in 2001 and Paloma in 2008 — and one Category 5 hurricane have developed in the Atlantic during the month of November.
Forecasters say Eta could have a similar impact to that of Hurricane Mitch from 1998, which struck around the same point of the season. More than 11,000 people died due to catastrophic flooding.
When Eta became a tropical storm on Saturday, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season tied 2005 for generating the most tropical storms in a single season.
The National Hurricane Center had never used the name Eta before this storm, making it the farthest the center ever dipped into the Greek alphabet to name a tropical storm. The only other year to use Greek letters to name Atlantic storms after the season’s designated list was exhausted was 2005.