Florida under hurricane warning with storm Eta forecast to strengthen

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Parts of Florida are now under a hurricane warning as tropical storm Eta continues its approach and is expected to strengthen as it makes a path for a forecast hurricane-force landfall in the Florida Keys, with the potential for a second impact for the state later this coming week as well.

Eta was at one stage the strongest hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season as it approached its first landfall in Central America, but then weakened considerably before taking a meandering path back into the Caribbean.

Update: Eta did not attain hurricane status before reaching the Florida Keys. The tropical storm is still forecast to intensify into hurricane Eta when it moves away into the Gulf of Mexico, but it will then make a sharp turn back towards Florida where SST’s are lower and the potential for wind shear is higher, so at this stage (Monday morning) it’s expected Eta will be a weakening tropical storm when it makes a second landfall further north on the Florida Gulf Coast later this week.

Long-range forecasts had always suggested Florida could be at-risk from a resurgence of hurricane Eta, as we explained last week, meaning that this has become another weekend of watching the tropics for the insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) industry.

Tropical storm Eta intensified as it crossed the Caribbean towards Cuba, as had been forecast, reaching 65 mph sustained winds before making landfall on the island.

On its path, tropical storm Eta also soaked the Cayman Islands, with reports of downed trees from strong winds, some coastal damage, as well as localised flooding from Eta’s heavy rains.

Cuba is facing strong tropical storm force winds with the potential for gusts of close to hurricane strength with Eta, as well as up to 4 feet of storm surge and rainfall totals as high as 25 inches from the tropical storm.

After crossing Cuba, tropical storm Eta will emerge over the straits of Florida, where the warm waters are expected to help Eta re-strengthen with the forecast now saying to expect hurricane Eta to form near the Keys.

Florida’s hurricane watch has now been upgraded to a hurricane warning, for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay and still a hurricane watch is in place for its coast from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach.

Tropical storm Eta currently has 65 mph sustained winds and having crossed Cuba is now forecast to strengthen further as it moves towards the Keys and southern Florida.

Hurricane Eta forecast path and tracking map

The NHC’s latest outlook for Eta is below:

On the forecast track, the center of Eta will continue to move over the Florida Straits between Cuba and the Bahamas today, pass near or over the Florida Keys tonight and early Monday, and be over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico late Monday and Tuesday.

Reports from the reconnaissance aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts. Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Eta could become a hurricane before it reaches the Florida Keys tonight.

Currently the NHC is predicting storm surges of 2 to 4 feet for areas of Florida within the hurricane watch, while portions of the central and southern Florida peninsula, including the Keys could see 6 to 12 inches of rainfall from tropical storm or hurricane Eta, with isolated maximum totals of 18 inches possible.

The NHC also warns of the chance of a handful of tornadoes being spawned as Eta reaches southern Florida and the Keys.

The level of threat posed to insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) markets by Eta now depends on how much it can intensify over the straits of Florida as it approaches the keys.

If Eta can regain hurricane status, as is now forecast, then these surge heights would be expected to rise and wind damage become an increasing possibility.

However, Eta is unlikely to become a particularly significant hurricane, given the limited time it has crossing the straits before reaching the Florida peninsula, which could save the insurance and reinsurance market from further heavy losses, although still having the potential to be an impactful event for some carriers that have already experienced multiple hurricane losses this year.

There is a chance of a second threat for Florida though, as Eta’s forecast path suggests the storm will veer west into the Gulf of Mexico, where there may be a chance for more intensification, before the storm or hurricane veers back towards the east and depending on steering currents could make a second landfall further north up the Florida Gulf Coast or even into the Panhandle.

Right now, this scenario remains very uncertain and Eta could meander in the Gulf for a time. But that does raise the prospects of a strengthening hurricane over the Gulf, although wind shear may be elevated which could hinder Eta’s further intensification.

Right now, the southern Florida impacts seem assured, while the potential for a second impact on Florida or somewhere further north in the Gulf is much less certain.

Forecast models show the chances of Eta regaining hurricane strength here, but we really need to wait a few hours until it passes Cuba to better understand the storms chances of becoming hurricane Eta again.

The modelled forecast intensity graphic from TropicalTidbits.com is worth keeping an eye on:

Hurricane Eta modelled intensity forecast

So it remains very uncertain how impactful, or not, Eta’s resurgence and effects in Florida could be for the insurance and reinsurance market, let alone for ILS positions.

The rainfall and flooding threat persists, with Florida expected to see some flooding and possible coastal impacts from surge.

Eta’s ability to regain hurricane status on its journey north towards Florida is the wild-card, as should it manage this then the insurance and reinsurance market impacts will undoubtedly be higher, as wind and storm surge remain the key drivers of damage with most tropical storm systems.

Storms have been seen to intensify rapidly as they cross the Florida straits before, also while over the Keys, so Eta is worth keeping an eye on through the rest of Sunday and into Monday

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