Proving to be one of the tougher storms to forecast, the now-hurricane strength Eta has at one point or another been predicted to hit anywhere between New Orleans and Tampa. And it’s the latter city that is now on the rightmost edge of the “cone of probability,” according to the most recent forecast track by the National Hurricane Center.
Officially upgraded from a Tropical Storm to Hurricane Eta once again, the storm’s dramatic eastward shift has also started to accelerate it toward Florida’s western coast, with landfall currently predicted near Cedar Key around noon Thursday. Previous models had it moving much more slowly, with landfall predicted as late as Saturday, and “spaghetti models” still predict a wide range of potential paths:
Fortunately, over the next 36 hours, Eta is expected to weaken once again to tropical storm strength. The National Hurricane Center has issued a Tropical Storm Warning spanning 250 miles along the west coast of Florida, extending from Bonita Beach just south of Sarasota, to the north of Cedar Key, including Tampa, Sarasota and Fort Myers. Tropical storm conditions with winds between 39 to 73 mph are expected along that stretch later Wednesday into Thursday.
Hurricane conditions are possible along a narrower portion of that stretch, from Anna Marie Island to Yankeetown, with Tampa in the center. A hurricane watch for that area is in effect until further notice.
While the National Hurricane Center predicted Eta to weaken on approach, the hurricane watch was issued because even a slight forecasting error could mean Eta might still come ashore as a Category 1 hurricane.
Heavy rainfall from Eta will continue across western Cuba and South Florida and spread northward across portions of West and North Florida Wednesday through Friday. Additional flash and urban flooding will be possible in South Florida on Wednesday, especially across previously inundated areas, and across portions of West Florida through Friday.