Hurricane Eta strengthened to a Category 3 major storm Monday afternoon, threatening to bring “catastrophic” damage to parts of Central America and the Caribbean over the next few days, the National Hurricane Center warned.
Eta was predicted to make landfall early Tuesday near the Nicaragua-Honduras border as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds estimated at 140 mph.
“Catastrophic wind damage is expected where Eta’s eyewall moves onshore,” the Hurricane Center said, adding that “heavy rainfall from Eta will likely lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding across portions of Central America.”
Storm surge up to 18 feet above normal tides was also possible for the coast of Nicaragua.
As of 1 p.m. ET Monday, Eta had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and was located about 85 miles east of the Nicaragua-Honduras border, according to the Hurricane Center. It was moving west at 9 mph.
Eta, the fifth major hurricane of 2020, is now the strongest Atlantic hurricane in November in 12 years, since Paloma in 2008, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.
A hurricane warning was in effect for coastal Nicaragua.
Forecasters said central and northern Nicaragua into much of Honduras could get 15 to 25 inches of rain, and 35 inches was possible in isolated areas. Heavy rains also were likely in eastern Guatemala, southern Belize and Jamaica.
Eta tripled in strength in just over a day, rapidly intensifying from a 40-mph storm Sunday morning to a 120 mph hurricane on Monday. Eta is now the eighth Atlantic storm this season to hit the meteorologists’ definition for rapid intensification.
It’s also the 12th hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season, double the average of six.
If Eta hits Nicaragua as a Category 4, it would be first Category 4+ hurricane to make landfall in Nicaragua since Felix in 2007, Klotzbach said.
The hurricane’s path after it lashes Central American is up in the air. “The long-term movement of Eta, if it survives the encounter with Central America, is highly uncertain, but there is potential for the system or a spinoff to linger and wander around into the middle of November somewhere from the western Caribbean to the southwestern Atlantic,” AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Eta is the 28th named Atlantic storm this season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. However, this is the first time the Greek letter Eta is being used as a storm name because after the 2005 season ended, meteorologists went back and determined there had been a storm that should have gotten a name but didn’t.
Hurricane season still has a month to go, ending Nov. 30.
Contributing: The Associated Press