Eta was downgraded to a tropical storm after briefly regaining strength as a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday as it prepared to strike Florida a second time.
The storm’s highest sustained winds dropped from 75 mph to 70 mph Wednesday late afternoon when it was about 85 miles from Tampa.
Eta was traveling north at about 12 mph and expected to approach the west-central coast of Florida on Wednesday evening before migrating inland over the northern part of the Florida Peninsula on Thursday.
By late Thursday or early Friday, forecasters expect Eta to travel northeast into the western Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center said the storm should weaken after making landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Meteorologists on Wednesday warned of a dangerous storm surge along Florida’s western coast from the Suwannee River to Bonita Beach, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.
Coastal flooding from rising waters could push the water 5 feet above ground in some areas including from Anclote River to Boca Grande, Florida. Areas from Boca Grande to Bonita Beach and from Steinhatchee River to Anclote River could experience 2 to 4 feet of storm surge.
“Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions. Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials,” the hurricane center said.
Forecasters anticipated “tropical storm-force” winds along portions of the coast from Bonita Beach to the Suwanee River. Eta also could whip up a few tornadoes over parts of western and Central Florida.
Eta continued to pour down rain across western Cuba and South Florida on Wednesday, bringing more flash and urban flooding especially in areas already drenched. Meteorologists forecast heavy rainfall will spread northward across parts of west and north Florida through Friday.
School officials in Pinellas and Pasco counties, which includes St. Petersburg, sent students home early Wednesday due to the storm’s forecast and announced schools would stay closed Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
Four do-it-yourself locations were set up in Pasco County for people to fill sandbags. The Busch Gardens theme park in Tampa closed Wednesday, and several Veterans Day events in the area were canceled.
Flooding shut down several of Florida’s coronavirus testing sites including Miami-Dade County’s Hard Rock Stadium, one of its largest. Officials said as much as 16 inches of rain damaged the testing site. The Tropicana Field coronavirus testing site in Pinellas County also was shut down Wednesday.
In North and South Florida, forecasters on Wednesday said Eta could drop another 1 to 2 inches for a total of 20 inches in the south part of the state and isolated total accumulations of 4 inches in the north. West and Central Florida could see another 2 to 4 inches of rain through Thursday, for a total of 6 inches. Portions of West and North Florida could experience flooding of rivers and urban areas through Thursday.
An additional 1 to 3 inches of rainfall was expected Wednesday in western Cuba for a total of 25 inches. Flash and river flooding along with landslides in areas of higher terrain in western Cuba were possible.
This will be the fourth time Eta makes landfall. The storm made its first landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Nicaragua last week before landing in Cuba. Late Sunday, Eta narrowly landed in the Lower Matecumbe Key as it drifted into the Gulf of Mexico, deluging neighborhoods from Monroe to Palm Beach counties.
Eta is the 28th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, matching the 2005 record for named storms. Theta became the tie breaker when it formed Monday night as the 29th named storm. By late afternoon Wednesday, Theta had weakened a bit more over the eastern Atlantic, about 670 miles southwest of the Azores, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. No coastal watches or warnings were issued for Theta.
The number of named storms this hurricane season exceeded expectations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August forecasted 19 to 25 named storms.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.