| Naples Daily News
Eta’s lengthy journey continues as it moves over Caribbean Sea
After weakening to a tropical depression, Eta is staging a comeback and will gather strength in the coming days.
It’s not time to put away the rain boots and umbrellas just yet, Southwest Florida.
Forecasts are calling for a soggy weekend with rain continuing through most of next week.
While Tropical Depression Eta has weakened the past few days, National Weather Service forecasters expect the system to dump at least a few inches of rain across the area.
“(Collier County) is definitely going to have rain chances increasing today into tomorrow with 60-70% chances,” NWS forecaster Paxton Fell said Friday. “The Sunday timeframe looks to have heavier rainfall but that can certainly change depending on the speed of Eta.”
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Paxton, working for NWS’s Miami office, said normal rainfall in Collier for November is just about four inches with this year’s total so far at just 0.09 inches. She said Eta could dump between 2-5 inches through Monday, possibly into Tuesday. October was a bit on the dry side coming in at just above 2 inches. Collier normally gets about 4 inches in October.
Eta has been difficult for forecasters to track, but Fell said the cone doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Impacts and hazards will be felt well outside the cone,” she said. “The cone just represents where the center may fall, not actual impacts like tornadoes and winds.”
There is also potential for isolated tornados and landfalling waterspouts in the outer bands of the system, Fell said, but confidence is on the lower side.
Forecaster Keily Delerme at NWS’s office near Tampa said that because Eta was over land in Central America so long it was downgraded to a depression, but now that the system is back over water it’s expected to become a tropical storm once again.
“Hurricane hunters are flying through the storm that’s expected to become a tropical storm again later today, then we’ll have a better idea what it’s going to do,” Delerme said. “It’s expected to move over Cuba and then once it leaves Cuba it could get a bit stronger.”
That stronger system will have high chances of heavy rainfall over Lee County, and Delerme said the area could see some tropical storm force wind gusts starting Sunday. She said it’s still too uncertain to project any rainfall totals just yet.
October rainfall in Lee was on average with previous years coming in at just more than 4 inches. The first week of November has been pretty dry, with totals in Fort Myers not even registering on the gauges, Delerme said.
Delerme said that even though it may not be a hurricane, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be bad effects. There will still be days of multiple rainfall over the same area that could cause flooding. The rain will last through most of next week, she said, with the system letting up sometime around Thursday.
There is still a lot of uncertainty with Eta and its future path, which make rainfall projections difficult. Once NHC hurricane hunters have a better idea of the storm’s center, Delerme said it will be easier for the weather service to predict those totals.
“Keep up with forecast,” Fell advised Southwest Floridians. “Just look when you think of it because we’re updating it so frequently.”
More inland, at the 13,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, rainfall was higher than average in October. The sanctuary’s research director, Shawn Clem, said the potential rainfall forecasts from Eta could exceed the average monthly totals historically seen during November.
“Thing about this storm now is that it looks like 3 inches, which is 80% higher than the whole month’s average,” Clem said. “That’s more than a typical month’s rain in the next couple days. We often forget how dry November and December can be.”
Clem said the sanctuary’s water levels hit the peak in October, which means any more rainfall is added on top of that.
“If the sanctuary is representative (of Southwest Florida), we are already pretty saturated and still at the peak of rainy season,” she said. “We’ll be adding rainfall on top of that peak.”
With Eta likely to be a tropical storm dumping rain on Florida over the weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers will continue.
About 36 billion gallons of water, both discharges and local runoff, have been released into the Caloosahatchee River so far this week averaging about 2.6 billion gallons each day.
The storm is expected to bring 2-4 inches of rain on and around Lake O, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy rain in the watershed area north of the lake could make the lake elevation rise significantly.
It’s a risk to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake O that Col. Andrew Kelly, the Corps commander for Florida, isn’t willing to take.
Worst-case scenario: If Eta causes the lake to rise 10 inches or more, discharges would last “a month or more,” Kelly said.
Best-case scenario: If Eta is “a non-event,” the discharges could possibly stop before the end of next week, Kelly said, adding residents shouldn’t hold out too much hope for that. “We expect this rainfall event to be significant.”
Tyler Treadway of Treasure Coast Newspapers contributed to this report
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk