ETA: NOT just another storm

Hurricane Eta

I know we’re all tired of hurricane season, but Eta will be one of the worst this year, especially if it’s anything like Mitch in 1998 and it appears that it will be. More on Mitch later.

For now (9pm Monday), Eta has 150-mph winds, a Category 4 hurricane, but is forecast to strengthen to a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds before landfall in central America early tomorrow morning! Along with a 14-21′ storm surge, rainfall forecast by the National Hurricane Center will be torrential:

Much of Nicaragua and Honduras: 15 to 25 inches, isolated amounts of 35 inches.

Eastern Guatemala and Belize: 10 to 20 inches, isolated amounts of 25 inches.

Portions of Panama and Costa Rica: 10 to 15 inches, isolated amounts of 25 inches.

Here’s the latest American Model taking Eta into Nicaragua and Mexico, eventually making a play for Florida (but that is two weeks from now, so we’ll see, but Mitch did the same thing).

American Model

Eta could be relentless, meandering around the Caribbean and Gulf for two weeks with, according to the latest run of this model, even having the remnants of Eta heading toward Texas! Our Gulf water is likely too cold to support much of a storm in our area, but it is 2020! And, understand, this isn’t just a “rain event” for Central America. This will be the worst storm for many of those countries since Mitch.

A look back at Mitch

The same time of year in 1998, Hurricane Mitch formed in the southern Caribbean ramping up to a Category 5 hurricane before moving into Honduras on November 5. Here’s the Mitch satellite from then:

Hurricane Mitch courtesy NOAA

Communication 22 years ago wasn’t nearly what it is today and I recall a line from one of the National Hurricane Center forecasters in reference to Honduras: “I hope they know what’s coming.”

Who could? The storm drove in with 180-mph winds dropping 3 feet of rain, producing horrendous mudslides. Approximately 20,000 lives were lost as Mitch produced $6 billion in damage. Honduran officials said the storm set their economy back 50 years.

Mitch Damage in Honduras

You can see from the path below, that after Mitch’s assault on central America, it eventually moved over southern Florida as a tropical storm. Similar to the Eta forecast.

Hurricane Mitch's Path

Sadly, Hurricane Eta will measure up well to Hurricane Mitch. Unfortunately for central America, all eyes of the United States and the world will be on the presidential election tomorrow and the rest of the week. I suspect the news cycle will pay only minor respect to the devastation about to unfold there. I hope they know what’s coming.


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.