Eta was rare November surprise for South & SW Florida and the Keys

Posted 12/23/20

Now that the water has receded and the cleanup is underway, let’s take a closer look at Eta’s track as well as how rare of an event...

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Eta was rare November surprise for South & SW Florida and the Keys


Tropical Winds Newsletter
Winter 2020 Edition

Now that the water has receded and the cleanup is underway, let’s take a closer look at Eta’s track as well as how rare of an event a landfalling tropical cyclone is for our area in November.

Looking at the historical hurricanes database, before Eta made landfall in Lower Matecumbe Key on Nov. 8, there have only been five tropical cyclones landfalls since 1850 within 100 miles of Miami. This is largely due to decreasing sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic waters during the month of November, as well as synoptic patterns such as troughs that tend to pull any system out of the Caribbean toward the east of South Florida. These synoptic systems played an important role in the weird and curvy track of Eta, allowing for one of the most unique and memorable tracks in recent history.

Eta formed as a tropical depression in the Western Caribbean on Oct. 31, 2020, and began to feel the influence of a strong ridge just to the north.

As a strong ridge began to build in, Eta was steered into Central America as a powerful major hurricane that caused widespread flooding and landslides over Nicaragua and Honduras. Eta quickly weakened over the terrain of Central America, and became a tropical depression as it was passing through the interior portions of Honduras.

While passing over Central America, Eta was captured by an upper-level low that moved southeastward into the Gulf of Mexico; this acted to pull Eta into the Caribbean. This upper level low pulled Eta toward the northeast, north, northwest, and then into the Florida Keys and South Florida.

Eta made landfall at Lower Matecumbe Key during the late evening hours of Sunday, Nov. 8 as a tropical storm with winds of 65 mph. Although the center of Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys, impacts were felt far from the center in South Florida. Broward County had a rainfall event that would be classified as a once in a 100 year event. Eta brought upwards of 15 inches of rain to portions of Broward County, and 50-60 mph gusts across South Florida and the Keys, as well as heavy surf and coastal erosion at area beaches.

As Eta continued to rotate around the upper-level low, it began to move toward the west and then the southwest, which allowed Eta to travel toward the western tip of Cuba. After stalling just offshore of the western coast of Cuba, a large trough passing over the Central United States pulled Eta north-northeast toward the western coast of Florida. The southwestern counties of South Florida began to experience gusty winds, coastal inundation and the threat of tropical tornadoes as Eta continued on its journey north. Eta went on to make a final landfall at Cedar Key on the morning of Nov. 12 as a 50 mph tropical storm. Eta crossed over the Florida Peninsula and transitioned to an extratropical cyclone just offshore of South Carolina on Nov. 13, and the winding and harrowing journey of Eta finally came to an end.

Reprinted with permission.