The storm is expected to skirt the heavily populated Tampa Bay region and crash ashore in the coming hours somewhere to the north along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds remained at about 70 mph (110 kph) off Florida’s west coast as the storm moved northward, according to the hurricane center in Miami. Additional weakening was possible as Eta approaches the coast.
Heavy rainfall would also continue to spread across west and central Florida, along with additional flash and urban flooding in south Florida.
The last tropical storm that made landfall in the Florida Keys was Hurricane Gordon two years ago.
The hurricane center said that a “life-threatening storm surge" is possible early on Thursday, and forecasters advised residents to heed warnings from local officials.
Forecasters say that the storm system will bring more rain over South Florida, which has already been inundated.
The Tampa Bay region is home to more than 3.5 million people across five coastal counties. No mandatory evacuations were immediately ordered but authorities began opening shelters for anyone needing them. No serious damage or flooding was immediately reported.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said special care is taken at shelters to protect people from the coronavirus, such as social distancing, and suggested people bring their own masks.
The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category-4 hurricane and killed nearly 70 people from Mexico to Panama, before moving into the Gulf of Mexico early on Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea.
Eta was the 28th named storm of a packed Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, the record was broken by the 29th storm – Theta.
AP contributed to this report
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