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                1. Local Weather
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                Tropical Storm Eta is going to soak Tampa Bay

                Eta isn’t expected to strike Tampa Bay directly. But the tropical storm is expected to slow down and dump rain on the region as it churns through the Gulf of Mexico.

                Approaching Tropical Storm Eta will bring heavy rain to Tampa Bay starting next week — and could stick around and drench the region for days, said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik.

                Eta is a shadow of the deadly hurricane that ripped through Central America, yet it has grown stronger and now threatens Florida. The tropical depression regained tropical storm strength at about 1 p.m. Saturday and did so faster than expected, according to the National Hurricane Center.

                In six hours, the storm’s 40 mph maximum sustained winds jumped to 60 mph as it passed over Grand Cayman. By 7 p.m., wind speeds had jumped again to 65 mph and remained steady through 10 p.m.

                The storm is expected to pass over Cuba on Saturday night, then make a sharp turn to the northwest and reach the Florida Keys late Sunday or early Monday. The southern end of Florida falls under the cone of uncertainty, while the top of southern Pinellas County lies just outside the edge. That could change, of course.

                Tampa Bay will start seeing storm effects Sunday night, Kacmarik said. She predicts a 70 percent chance of rain Monday and a 50 percent chance Tuesday and Wednesday. Eta’s biggest threats to the bay area are excessive rainfall and flooding. There’s a 25 to 30 percent chance the bay area could see tropical-storm-force winds, which are anywhere from 39 mph to 73 mph.

                Eta was traveling northeast at 17 mph on Saturday afternoon but is expected to slow down as it travels up Florida’s west coast, Kacmarik said. That will allow the storm to dump rain on our region for days even though it’s expected to stay in the Gulf of Mexico as it moves north past the Tampa Bay coast.

                The expected path of Tropical Storm Eta according to the National Hurricane Center's 4 p.m. Saturday advisory.
                The expected path of Tropical Storm Eta according to the National Hurricane Center's 4 p.m. Saturday advisory. [ National Hurricane Center ]

                “The problem with this system is it’s going to be nearby us for a long time,” Kacmarik said. “This is going to have an impact for a long time around our area, in through at least Thursday next week.”

                Cuba’s mountains should keep Eta from reaching Category 1 strength, according to the hurricane center. Still, a hurricane watch was in effect Saturday for parts of south Florida and a tropical storm warning is in effect as far north as Anna Maria Island on the west coast and Volusia County on the east coast.

                A hurricane watch means there’s a chance of hurricane-like conditions in the next day or two, while a warning means conditions are expected to worsen within three days. The same goes for tropical storm watches and warnings.

                Eta could also bring potential flash and urban flooding to parts of South Florida, with some areas expected to experience up to 18 inches of rain. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a state of emergency on Friday.

                Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statement Friday urging Floridians to get ready.

                “Residents in southern Florida should begin preparing for potential impacts, including heavy rain and flooding,” he said in a tweet. “Gather seven days of supplies.”

                If Eta makes landfall in Florida, it will be the first tropical storm to hit the state in November since Tropical Storm Mitch on Nov. 5, 1998. It may not be the last storm Florida sees during this historically active hurricane season, which could last into December.

                Meanwhile the death toll from when Eta struck Central America as a Category 4 storm has risen to at least 150.

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