- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Gulf Coast residents braced Tuesday for more torrential showers as Tropical Storm Zeta swept north toward Louisiana after having made landfall as a hurricane in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Louisianans were still recovering from downpours and strong winds from two previous hurricanes and two tropical storms this hurricane season. Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana in August and was soon followed by Hurricane Delta.

Meteorologists on Tuesday forecast that Zeta, the 27th named storm this season, would again strengthen to a hurricane, as it travels toward the Gulf Coast. Coastal residents from Louisiana to Alabama were under a hurricane watch.

Zeta landed Monday night on the eastern Yucatan Peninsula near Tulum, Mexico, as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph before weakening to a tropical storm and continuing north.

The National Hurricane Center warned Tuesday of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the northern Gulf Coast by late Wednesday.

Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator for the National Weather Service (NWS), said the mouth of the Mississippi River could see 4 to 6 feet of storm surge, while the areas where Louisiana and Mississippi meet could see 5 to 8 feet of storm surge. Mobile Bay, a northern inlet of the Gulf of Mexico that is bordered by Alabama, could see 3 to 5 feet storm surge.

“You’ve got the rainfall falling down on top of these rivers that have been rained on for quite some time before the center gets there, and you’ve got water trying to get out through the rivers to the gulf and then you got the gulf being pushed up into the mouths of these rivers, too. So the threat of flooding is very real in those areas,” Mr. Cline said.

Zeta also could cause flash flooding across portions of the Deep South and portions of the mid-Atlantic through Friday morning. The NWS forecast 2 to 4 inches of rain in parts of the central Gulf Coast.

NWS meteorologist Kevin Witt said the storm will probably pick up speed Wednesday evening, moving more than 15 mph as it passes through central Alabama before heading toward the D.C. region Thursday. The storm will probably become a tropical depression at that point, he said.

For the D.C. region, Mr. Witt said a shield of rain will form along a cold front in the northwest to southeast. Residents can expect 1 to 3 inches of rain starting Thursday afternoon or evening, according to the meteorologist, who urged people to “be on guard for flooding.”

On Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency ahead of the anticipated hurricane.

“While there is some uncertainty in Zeta‘s track, it is likely that Louisiana will see some impacts from this storm, and the people of our state need to take it seriously. It’s easy to let your guard down late in the hurricane season, but that would be a huge mistake,” Mr. Edwards said in a statement.

If it makes landfall in Louisiana, Zeta will be the fifth named storm to do so this year, following two tropical storms and two hurricanes, The Associated Press reported.

“The storm itself is looking more round, more symmetrical on both sides,” Mr. Cline said of Zeta, noting the lack of wind shear and frictional forces contribute to a tropical storm’s growing strength. “And the thunderstorms are more near the center right now.”

On Tuesday, meteorologists expected heavy rainfall across the Yucatan Peninsula, the Cayman Islands and western Cuba, leading to flash flooding in urban areas. Downed trees caused power outages and damage, but no deaths from the storm were reported, according to AP, citing officials in two Mexican states affected by Zeta.

Zeta is the earliest 27th Atlantic named storm, breaking the previous record for the storm that formed Nov. 29, 2005. It is the 11th hurricane of the season.

An average season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes of which half can be classified as Category 3, 4 or 5.

In August, weather forecasters said this year’s Atlantic hurricane season could be one of the busiest on record, predicting 19 to 25 named storms including seven to 11 hurricanes.

The busiest season on record so far was in 2005, when there were 28 named storms. The hurricane season lasts through Nov. 30.

Due to the high number of storms this season, the hurricane center ran out of assigned names and had to start pulling from the Greek alphabet.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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