Central America on alert for potential hurricane strike early next week

There is a strong likelihood that a disturbance in the Caribbean will strengthen into a tropical storm or perhaps a hurricane this weekend before heading toward Central America early next week with the potential to unleash life-threatening weather conditions.

The next tropical storm to develop in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be given the name Eta, which is the next letter in the Greek alphabet. Should the Caribbean feature reach tropical-storm force, it will become the 28th named storm of the season. The next system to strengthen into a named storm will allow 2020 to tie the historic 2005 season, which holds the current record for the most tropical systems to ever form in one season.

Thus far, 2020 has yielded 11 hurricanes — four shy of the record of 15 in one season, which is also held by the 2005 season.

AccuWeather meteorologists do not expect the system to turn northward and threaten the United States, but the system is expected to organize and strengthen as it continues to drift westward on a path that leads it toward Central America.

“Portions of Nicaragua and Honduras should be prepared for strong winds, torrential rainfall and a storm surge from Monday to Wednesday regardless of whether the disturbance fully develops or not,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.

“Risks to lives and property could be significant to severe in part of Central America, whether the system hits as a tropical storm or a hurricane,” Miller said.

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The system is associated with a swath of drenching showers and locally gusty thunderstorms that passed through the Windward Islands Thursday into early Friday.

This image, captured on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, shows an enhanced area of thunderstorms over the western end of the Caribbean Sea. It is this feature that may develop into the Atlantic’s next tropical system of 2020. (CIRA at Colorado State/GOES-East)

As the system moves westward over the Caribbean this weekend, it could become better organized, potentially enough to be named Tropical Depression 29 by late Friday or Saturday. Further strengthening into tropical-storm status is predicted to occur later this weekend or early next week.

“It is not out of the question that the system could strengthen rapidly as wind shear is forecast to remain relatively low and waters are sufficiently warm over the central and western Caribbean,” Miller said.

Rapid intensification occurs when a tropical cyclone’s maximum sustained winds increase by 35 mph or greater in a 24-hour period, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

There have been eight tropical systems that have undergone rapid strengthening this year: Hanna, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta. Delta strengthened from a depression into a Category 4 hurricane in just over 36 hours, which shattered the old Atlantic record for ramping up to that strength so quickly. Previously, the record was held by Keith from 2000, which strengthened from a depression to a Category 4 hurricane within 42 hours.

Boating and beach interests in the islands of the central and western Caribbean should be prepared for building seas and surf as the system tracks westward and intensifies. Waters around the A, B, C Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), as well as along the south shores of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic could turn rough into Saturday. On Sunday, rough sea conditions are anticipated to occur farther west along the northern shore of Colombia and the southern shores of Haiti and Jamaica.

During early next week, seas and surf will continue to build along the shorelines in the western Caribbean. How quickly conditions deteriorate, and exactly where the worst conditions will occur, will depend on where the center forms, how strong it becomes and the exact track the tropical system takes into Central America. At this early stage, there is the potential for rainfall in excess of 10 inches (250 millimeters) and coastal winds in excess of 60 mph (97 km/h).

Even if the system fails to fully develop, areas of torrential downpours from strong thunderstorms are likely to push westward across Central America during the early to middle part of the coming week.

Because of the rugged and hilly terrain in part of the region, the potential for flash flooding and mudslides will exist where the heaviest rain pours down.

At this time, forecasters expect the core of the storm’s heavy rain and strongest coastal winds to aim for Nicaragua and Honduras.

However, a more northern path could bring potentially dangerous and damaging impacts to Belize and southeastern Mexico. A more southern track could bring the worst conditions to Costa Rica.

People in flood-prone areas in the region are being urged to take precautions ahead of the storm. Should the system hit with the force of a strong tropical storm or hurricane, power outages could be widespread and long-lasting.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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