Hurricane Eta nearly at Cat 5 strength as it bears down on Central America
By Ryan Adamson, AccuWeather meteorologist
The storm will unleash damaging winds and trigger life-threatening flooding. Some areas could receive up to 50 inches of rain.
Eta, the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, strengthened into a powerful Category 4 hurricane over the western Caribbean early Monday afternoon. Extremely dangerous Eta is expected to bring catastrophic impacts to Central America due to its initial strength and excruciatingly slow movement.
The storm was located 20 miles south-southeast of the Nicaraguan town of Puerto Cabezas as it packed maximum sustained winds of 140 mph early Tuesday afternoon.
“The eyewall of extremely dangerous Hurricane Eta [was] moving onshore along the coast of northeastern Nicaragua,” NHC said in an update at 1:00 p.m. EDT Tuesday. In order for a landfall to be declared, the center of the storm has to cross the coast.
In the span of 24 hours, the rapidly intensifying storm went from a tropical storm strength on Sunday night to knocking on the doorstep of Category 5 strength — which has sustained winds over 156 mph — when winds peaked near 150 mph late Monday. Eta tied Hurricane Laura for strongest storm of the 2020 hurricane season — and it is the fifth major hurricane of the season to churn across the basin.
Atmospheric conditions surrounding Eta, including very warm water and low vertical wind shear, allowed the storm to ramp up so quickly from Monday morning to Monday night.
AccuWeather meteorologists on Monday night raised the rating for Eta to a 5 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes as it is projected to make landfall in Central America early Tuesday, posing a host of dangers including a life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic flooding rainfall and destructive winds.
Earlier in the day, the storm was rated a 4 after initially being rated a 2 on the scale when it developed as a tropical depression over the weekend.
The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale is a 6-point scale with ratings of less than one and 1 to 5. In contrast to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which classifies storms by wind speed only, the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale is based on a broad range of important factors, including wind speed, flooding rain, storm surge and economic damage and loss.
When Eta reached Category 4 strength, it acheived a rare feat for this late in the season. Only three Category 4 hurricanes — Lenny in 1999, Michelle in 2001, and Paloma in 2008 — and one Category 5 hurricane — the Cuba Hurricane of 1932 — have developed in the Atlantic during the mo
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