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Tropical Storm Eta Makes Landfall, Tampa Bay Impacts Still Being Felt

The storm made landfall in Cedar Key early Thursday morning, producing heavy rains that resulted in flooded streets and storm surge along the coast.

Tropical Storm Eta made landfall near Cedar Key early Thursday morning and produced a dangerous storm surge and flooded streets across the greater Tampa Bay region as it passed by.

Eta had knocked out power to several thousand residents as of early Thursday morning,

Eta made landfall in Levy County around 4 a.m. with top sustained winds of 50 mph after skirting the west coast of Florida throughout Wednesday into the overnight hours, according to the National Hurricane Center.

As of 5 a.m. Thursday, Eta is a weakening tropical storm with maximum sustained winds still at 50 mph with higher gusts. It is now inland, 5 miles east of Cedar Key and moving northeast at 13 mph.

Eta is forecast to move across northeastern Florida – including Jacksonville – with occasional wind gusts to tropical storm force generally along and north of Interstate 4 in the morning before emerging in the western Atlantic near Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon and into the mid-Atlantic states later this week.

The region remains under a Tropical Storm Warning, and a Flash Flood Watch is in effect until 1 p.m. as bands of heavy rain move through the region. While a Storm Surge Warning has been discontinued, the region continues to contend with rising seas as onshore winds push water onshore.

Ray Hawthorne, meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network said occasional rain bands are likely to produce tropical storm-force wind gusts Thursday morning over the peninsula.

“Dry air and wind shear took its toll on Eta before making landfall,” Hawthorne said. “Still, brief gusts to around 40 mph are likely (Thursday) morning mainly from the I-4 corridor northward to interior North Florida and the First Coast.

“I expect what’s left of Etas circulation to move offshore near Jacksonville around mid-afternoon with conditions improving before dusk.”

Forecasters estimate Eta may still produce a storm surge of 2-4 feet in the waters across Tampa Bay, and could produce an additional 1-3 inches of rain across portions of the state on top of the 6-9 inches that has already fallen. Winds will continue to produce dangerous rip currents along the coast.

The surge flooded areas in downtown Tampa and along the coast in St. Petersburg as Eta pushed water into Tampa Bay.

The highest wind gusts recorded on the west coast were mostly between 50 and 60 mph between Sarasota and Citrus counties, with gusts to tropical storm force in the Fort Myers area Wednesday afternoon. The highest gust recorded so far was 66 mph in Beverly Hills in Citrus County.

Reports from the National Weather Service indicate storm surge caused flooding requiring evacuations Wednesday evening near Longboat Key in Sarasota County. Additional surge flooding was reported in Pinellas County, near the Tampa Riverwalk and along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, near New Port Richey, and other flood-prone areas.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office says it rescued 33 people from flooded homes and cars. Most were along the county’s coast, from Pass-a-Grille to Madeira Beach, where the storm surge from Tropical Storm Eta was up to four feet.

Rescued people spent the night in hotels and shelters.

Deputies are working with county highway crews to clear storm debris from roads but say no streets are closed at this time.

Once Eta moves out of the state, the region can expect mostly clear skies, dry conditions and warmer-than-normal temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

Information from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network was used in this report.

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