Rain, wind, some power outages as Eta nears

The weather toppled this tree in Green Cove Springs overnight.
The weather toppled this tree in Green Cove Springs overnight. (Photo: Marlene Hickox Scott)

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Wind gusts overnight prompted a few hundred power outages across Northeast Florida as Tropical Storm Eta swept over the state, but there were minimal reports of damage impacting residents here.

As of 10 a.m. Thursday, a few outages in Jacksonville left a couple dozen customers without power, according to JEA. Clay Electric reported there were three dozen customers in the dark in Clay County, along with over 170 in Putnam County and more than 300 in Alachua County.

The conditions toppled a tree in Marlene Hickox Scott’s yard in Green Cove Springs. She believes a combination of wind and a rain-laden canopy caused the tree to tip over sometime from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Fortunately, it didn’t hit her home, and she and her daughter are fine.

“I have 13 [hundred-year-old] live oaks and they are intact, but this one was my favorite,” Scott told News4Jax. “Thankful it didn’t hit the house.”

Paul Morse, a Clay County resident whose house has flooded before, watched the storm carefully earlier in the morning.

“Every time it rains my friends call me and they’re like, 'You worried, Paul?’ Hopefully, we’ll be OK if it doesn’t sit on us,” Morse said.

The worst of the storm had moved offshore shortly after 7 a.m. While Northeast Florida will see a little wet and windy weather, the skies are expected to clear this afternoon.

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The storm slogged ashore near Cedar Key about 4 a.m. with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. Eta briefly gained hurricane strength Wednesday morning in the Gulf of Mexico, but weakened significantly before reaching the coast.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries, serious damage or flooding in the Tampa Bay area as the storm skirted past that region Wednesday afternoon. Several tornado warnings were issued, but there were no reports of one touching down.

Tampa Bay officials closed some lanes on two of the three bridges that cross Tampa Bay, connecting the St. Petersburg area to Tampa, on Wednesday evening. Tampa International Airport suspended operations Wednesday afternoon, with plans to reopen no later than noon Thursday.

Officials at Jacksonville International Airport told News4Jax they did not expect to have to close JAX.

The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday. Eta is forecast to dissipate over the western Atlantic Ocean by the weekend.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an expanded emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near the Gulf coast, adding them to South Florida counties. DeSantis also asked for an early emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to free resources needed to tackle the storm. President Donald Trump granted the request Wednesday evening.

The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea.

Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe Key, in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Florida Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury with heavy rainfall.

It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm, Theta, located far out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from the Azores.

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