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Tropical Storm Eta makes landfall on Florida's west coast, bringing blustery rain

Doyle Rice
USA TODAY

Tropical Storm Eta continued its trek across Florida on Thursday, bringing more rain and wind after making landfall near Cedar Key early in the day. 

Eta came onshore about 4 a.m. with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

As the storm moved across the state, residents in North Florida saw heavy rain and gusty wind. Eta emerged out into the western Atlantic on Thursday afternoon.

Immediate reports of roofs being torn off homes and flooded streets poured in from the region, AccuWeather said. More than 7,000 customers along the western coast of the state were without power as of Thursday afternoon, according to Duke Energy.

The storm was expected to accelerate over the western Atlantic and move parallel to but offshore of the Carolinas before heading well east of the mid-Atlantic coast by late Friday.

As of late afternoon, maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 40 mph, with higher gusts.

One fatality was reported in Florida from the storm: A Bradenton Beach homeowner was electrocuted in floodwaters. 

A tropical system hitting Florida in November is rare to begin with, AccuWeather said, but landfall on this particular part of the coast is something that has never happened in November. In fact, tropical landfalls along the entire U.S. Gulf Coast are rare in November: Only 12 have occurred since record-keeping began in 1850, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell.

Eta dropped 6.4 inches of rain at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on Wednesday, breaking a 100-year-old record for the most rain on Nov. 11. 

“We got some good rain out of it, definitely,” National Weather Service meteorologist Nicole Carlisle said. She said Eta’s damage in the Sarasota area was not particularly severe for a tropical system but was a warning for what could happen if a stronger system takes aim at the region. 

“It does kind of give people a taste for what would happen if we had a storm come up along the west coast like that,” Carlisle said. “If it had been a stronger storm we would have been looking at very significant impacts along the coast as far as coastal flooding.” 

The storm forced officials to close some lanes on two of the three bridges that cross Tampa Bay, connecting the St. Petersburg area to Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

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The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing South Florida on Sunday. At 4 p.m. EST Thursday, Eta was centered about 90 miles south-southwest of Charleston, South Carolina, and was moving northeast at 18 mph.

Eta prompted school officials in Pasco and Pinellas counties, which includes St. Petersburg, to send students home early Wednesday. Both counties announced schools would remain closed Thursday, and neighboring Hillsborough County planned to keep schools closed through Friday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an expanded emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near the Gulf Coast, adding them to South Florida counties. DeSantis also asked for an early emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to free resources needed to tackle the storm. President Donald Trump granted the request Wednesday evening.

The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. 

Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe Key in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Florida Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury with heavy rainfall.

It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm, Theta, far out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from the Azores.

Theta poses no immediate threat to any land areas, the Hurricane Center said. 

Elsewhere, forecasters were watching for a tropical depression or storm to form in the central Caribbean Sea over the next couple of days. "Regardless of development, this system is expected to bring heavy rainfall along with possible flash flooding to portions of Hispaniola over the next day or so."

If the system becomes a named storm, it would be called Iota.  

Contributing: The Associated Press; Zac Anderson, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune