Americas

Eta Strengthens to Hurricane Status and Takes Aim at Central America

Eta was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane early Monday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, warning that the storm was likely to strengthen before making landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday.

Eta is the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane in a dangerously active season that has brought destruction from Central America to the northern Gulf States and beyond. With Eta, 2020 has tied a record set in 2005 for the most storms.

The center said in an advisory that the storm was about 155 miles east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the border of Nicaragua and Honduras and had sustained winds of up to 75 miles an hour.

A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of Nicaragua.

Eta, which formed as a tropical storm over the weekend, was expected to move west throughout Monday morning and turn west-southwest by the afternoon, possibly strengthening before making landfall in Nicaragua early Tuesday. The storm is then expected to move inland over the northern part of the country through early Wednesday.

As much as 25 inches of rain could fall in Nicaragua and Honduras, the hurricane center said, warning of isolated amounts of up to 35 inches. Life-threatening storm surge, damaging winds, flash flooding and landslides across parts of Central America were expected.

Only three other Atlantic hurricane seasons on record have had at least 12 hurricanes: 1969 (12 hurricanes), 2005 (15 hurricanes) and 2010 (12 hurricanes), said Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

With Eta, the unusually busy 2020 season tied the record for the most storms with 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma battered the Gulf Coast. That year, as with 2020, so many storms grew strong enough to be named that meteorologists had to resort to the Greek alphabet after exhausting the list of rotating names maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.

The agency never got to Eta, however, because the 28th storm of that year was not identified until the season was over. That last storm in 2005 was a subtropical storm that formed briefly in October near the Azores, a remote archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

With about a month left in the 2020 hurricane season, the 2005 record for the most named storms is likely to be broken, Mr. Klotzbach said.

“The odds certainly favor another storm or two forming in November,” he said. “The large-scale environment, especially in the Caribbean, is forecast to remain more conducive than normal for this late in the hurricane season.”

Eta followed Hurricane Zeta, which landed on Oct. 28 in Louisiana as a Category 2 storm, killing at least six people and causing widespread power outages in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The hurricanes of 2020 have not matched the intensity of the storms of 2005. That year, eight storms became major hurricanes, which are defined as hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.

But the effects of the 2020 season across the U.S. South have been widespread.

Hurricane Laura battered Lake Charles, La., in late August; Hurricane Sally lashed the Florida Panhandle with a deluge of rain in September; and in October, Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana less than 20 miles east of where Laura struck, slamming the area as it was still trying to recover.

Government scientists had predicted an unusually busy hurricane season, which began on June 1. They pointed to factors like higher-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, a strong African monsoon season and a reduced vertical wind shear, which means less wind variability at different altitudes that can disrupt the formation of storms.

But the number of named storms exceeded even initial forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.

“Records are made to be broken,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist with the center in Miami. “But this is not one I would want to break.”

Reporting was contributed by Maria Cramer, Henry Fountain, Christina Morales, Bryan Pietsch and Allyson Waller.

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