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Strengthening Eta, the 12th hurricane of season, barrels toward Central America

Eta, now a Category 4, could grow even stronger before making landfall in Nicaragua early Tuesday.
Hurricane Eta is expected to bring heavy rain, wind, storm surge to Central America.
Hurricane Eta is expected to bring heavy rain, wind, storm surge to Central America.NOAA

Eta strengthened Monday to become a Category 4 hurricane, expected to bring "catastrophic" wind and flooding to parts of Central America, the National Hurricane Center said.

The 12th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and was "nearing the coast" of northeastern Nicaragua at 1 a.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

It was about 40 miles east of Puerto Cabezas and expected to make landfall along Nicaragua's coast later Tuesday morning. Hurricane warnings stretched from Sandy Bay Sirpi north to the Nicaragua-Honduras border.

It is extremely rare for a Category 4 storm to strike land at this time of year. There have been only three Category 4 hurricanes on record during November, the most recent being Hurricane Paloma in 2008.

The hurricane could get even stronger and could become a Category 5 storm before it makes landfall, the hurricane center said. That category is for storms with maximum sustained winds of 157 mph or greater.

The hurricane center said in a discussion posted online at 10 p.m. that a reconnaissance aircraft found that "Eta has explosively deepened into a strong category 4 hurricane."

The storm is expected to dump as much as 25 inches of rain over much of the two countries, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane-force winds and storm surge of 12-18 feet are also possible through Tuesday.

The hurricane center warned that a potentially slow-moving storm after landfall could bring catastrophic wind damage. Those in the path of the storm also should prepare for life-threatening flash flooding, mudslides, landslides and extreme property damage.

Eta is expected to meander around Central America through the end of the week, but what happens after is not as clear.

Some forecast models show a tropical cyclone over the northwestern Caribbean later this week and into the weekend but it is not clear if the system will include remnants of Eta or be an entirely new system, in which case it would be named Theta.

When it was upgraded to a tropical storm over the weekend, Eta became the 28th named storm this Atlantic hurricane season, which has now tied 2005 for the most named storms in a single season. This season reached 28 storms 59 days earlier than the 2005 season did.

Both 2005 and 2020 have required meteorologists to name storms using the Greek alphabet, after exhausting the traditional list of names. This is the first time Eta has been used. The next three names on the list are Theta, Iota and Kappa.

The Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30, but tropical cyclones can form through December, as was the case in 2005.