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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tropical Storm Eta started lashing the Tampa Bay area with strong winds and heavy rain on Wednesday as it inched closer to Florida’s west coast.

Eta was holding steady as a hurricane Wednesday morning but, according to the National Hurricane Center’s, Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft found Eta had weakened to a tropical storm again around 1 p.m. ET.

As of 10 p.m., Eta is about 55 miles northwest of St. Petersburg and 60 miles west-northwest of Tampa. Maximum sustained winds are 65 mph, making Eta a strong tropical storm.

“The storm has peaked and has weakened back into a tropical storm. Slow weakening is forecast until landfall Thursday morning,” Max Defender 8 Meteorologist Julie Phillips said.

Eta is moving north at 12 mph. The latest forecast track shows the center of the storm moving closer to, but still just offshore, the west-central coast of Florida on Wednesday. It’s then expected to approach the west-central coast of Florida Wednesday night and move inland over the northern part of the Florida peninsula on Thursday.

Once Eta makes landfall, the NHC says it will rapidly weaken.

“The worst weather for the Tampa Bay area will be Wednesday afternoon and night,” Julie Phillips said. “Thursday, conditions improve very quickly.”

Several schools in the Tampa Bay area have already canceled school on Thursday and two local airports are suspending all operations starting Wednesday afternoon.

Forecasters issued a hurricane watch for much of Tampa Bay Wednesday morning as Tropical Storm Eta continued its trek north.

In addition to several now-expired tornado warnings that were issued Wednesday afternoon, Hillsborough County remains under a tornado watch until 5 p.m.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for:

  • Bonita Beach to Suwanee River Florida, including Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

  • Bonita Beach to Suwannee River, Florida
  • Flagler/Volusia County line to St. Andrews Sound, Georgia

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:

  • Steinhatchee River to Suwannee River, Florida

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for:

  • North of the Suwannee River to Aucilla River, Florida

Eta could dump an additional 1 to 4 inches of rain on portions of Florida and western Cuba on Wednesday, with some areas seeing isolated amounts of 20 inches.

Flash and urban flooding is expected across portions of west and north Florida and will be possible in South Florida across previously inundated areas.

Higher-than-normal tides are expected with a potential peak storm surge of 2-4 feet per the National Hurricane Center.

Eta, the 28th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, brought heavy rain and flash flooding to parts of South Florida after making landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday.

Subtropical Storm Theta

Subtropical Storm Theta formed over the northeastern Atlantic on Monday night.

Theta is the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane, breaking the previous record of 28 named storms that was set in 2005. 

The NHC said the system is about 860 miles southwest of the Azores with 70 mph maximum sustained winds. Theta is expected to stay over the eastern Atlantic over the next few days.

Tropical wave

A tropical wave is producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms over the eastern Caribbean Sea, according to the NHC. The wave is forecast to move west into more conducive environment conditions in the coming days.

A tropical depression is likely to form later this week or this weekend as the wave reaches the central or western Caribbean Sea. The NHC has given the wave a high 80 percent chance of formation through the next five days.

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