Eta close to hurricane strength with Nicaragua in its sights

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seen at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, U.S. August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

(Reuters) - Tropical Storm Eta neared hurricane strength as it rumbled west through the Caribbean on Sunday en route to Nicaragua and Honduras, which it is expected to pound with potentially deadly wind and rain, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Eta is forecast to become a hurricane Sunday night and hit the northeast coast of Nicaragua and adjacent portions of eastern Honduras late Monday or early Tuesday, the NHC said.

Latest projections forecast Eta will by then be a Category 2 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, blowing winds of up to 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour).

“Once inland, Eta should quickly weaken over the mountainous terrain of Nicaragua and Honduras,” the Miami-based NHC said.

Eta is the 28th named tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying an all-time record set in 2005, according to the NHC’s Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch.

By evening, Eta was 265 miles (426 km) east-northeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, moving west at 14 mph (23 kph) and blowing sustained winds of 70 mph (113 kph), the NHC said.

Through Friday afternoon, Eta’s rains threaten to cause serious flooding and landslides in Central America. Jamaica, southern Haiti and the Cayman Islands may also be hit.

By then, Eta is likely to have dumped 15-25 inches (381-640 mm) of rain on central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras, with up to 35 inches (889 mm) in some areas, the NHC said.

Nicaragua’s government has issued a hurricane warning from the Honduras-Nicaragua border to Sandy Bay Sirpi. Honduras has put out a tropical storm warning from Punta Patuca to the border with Nicaragua.

Writing by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Lisa Shumaker and Richard Chang