Florida faces a potential one-two punch from Tropical Storm Eta, which could strengthen into a hurricane and drop up to a foot of rain on the southern part of the state on Sunday, before retreating to the Gulf of Mexico to gather strength for round two.
Having made landfall in Cuba early Sunday, Eta now has Florida in its cross-hairs. In addition to rain — with some isolated areas possibly seeing 18 inches — Eta could bring with it storm surges of up to four feet. The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning, and a storm surge for much of the Florida Keys.
It would be the first named storm of the season to make landfall in Florida, according to the Weather Channel. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday in eight southern counties ahead of the storm: Broward, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach. School is canceled Monday in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, both in person and online.
Eta could strengthen into a hurricane as soon as today, depending on what happens to the winds in the center of the system.
"It is certainly possible that if dry air does not penetrate into Eta's inner core later today, then the cyclone could become a hurricane before it reaches the Florida Keys tonight," NHC senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart forecasted Sunday morning.
But regardless of when exactly Eta becomes a hurricane, forecasters expect heavy rainfall to continue to drench portions of Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and as far north as central Florida. In the Florida Keys, damaging tropical storm force winds should begin by late afternoon Sunday. The winds could extend 125 miles from the center.
"A tornado or two" are possible tonight or tomorrow, Stewart said. By early Monday morning, the Florida Keys can expect hurricane conditions. Swells could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
Perhaps befitting a year known for bruising surprises, after Eta's first pass at Florida, there may be a second. The storm is expected to regroup in the Gulf of Mexico, where it could shift northward and head back toward the state's western coast.
"You're going to be dealing with this all week," said NHC Director Ken Graham. "It's going to take a while to get this thing out of here."