Lessons From Tropical Storm Eta

Watching Tropical Storm Eta approach Southwest Florida has been a learning, not to say harrowing, experience. Eta began in Central America and then headed east over the Gulf of Mexico toward Cuba. Meteorologists predicted that Eta might intensify over the warm waters of the Gulf and/or track onto the main Florida peninsula.

Storm Tying. When we discussed storm preparations with our boat neighbors and the dockmaster, we learned that most seasoned boaters add fenders for protection and double all dock lines, preferably tying the “doubled” line to a separate cleat in case one cleat fails. Because high winds can damage or destroy older canvas with loose seams, some boaters remove their flybridge canvas. We risked leaving our canvas in place, but made sure all windows and canvas were tightly zipped and snapped in place before leaving the boat.

We gratefully accepted our friend Marilyn’s invitation to ride out the storm in her beautiful Marco Island condominium. We experienced heavy drenching rains but no damaging winds, and the outside bands of rain are predicted to be past us and over the Gulf by noon today.

Eta’s Outer Band Rains

Tropical Cyclone Categories. We learned that all tropical cyclone storms are ranked based on maxiumum sustained wind speed, with hurricanes ranked in Categories 1-5.

Hurricane Tracking Models. We also learned that while it is impossible to precisely predict the track of a tropical cyclone, statistical models can help. The most popular models used to predict the track of a hurricane or tropical storm are the American (Global Forecasting System, or GFS) and the European (Euro) models. Formerly available only to meteorologists, today anyone can access hurricane track predictions using either of these models. GFS results are published four times per day, but European results are published only twice per day because they require more computing power. Avid disciples of the Euro model view it as “top of the line.” Sort of like BMW owners.

Spaghetti Models. Each iteration of a hurricane tracking model is run multiple times with different data inputs, resulting in a number of possible tracks called “spaghetti models.” It was only appropriate that we had a spaghetti dinner last night!

Spaghetti Model of Tropical Storm Eta

Arrival of Eta. Despite risks that Eta could intensify from Tropical Storm to Hurricane levels and move close to South Florida, last night after Eta passed over the Florida Keys she turned left into the Gulf of Mexico and bypassed mainland Florida.

This afternoon after the rain ended, we helped Marilyn move her patio furniture back out and then headed back to Fort Myers and the boat, happy that Eta did not become a hurricane and relieved to have shared the storm-watching from Marilyn’s beautiful condo, with her warm hospitality and friendship. Thanks, Marilyn!

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