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WUSF is part of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, which provides up-to-the minute weather and news reports during severe weather events on radio, online and on social media for 13 Florida Public Media stations. It’s available on WUSF 89.7 FM, online at WUSFNews.org and through the free Florida Storms app, which provides geotargeted live forecasts, information about evacuation routes and shelters, and live local radio streams.

After Mexico Landfall, Zeta Expected To Re-Intensify En Route To Gulf Coast

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Portions of the western Florida Panhandle are under a tropical storm warning as effects could be felt as early as Wednesday.

Zeta is now a tropical storm after making landfall on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Monday night, but it is forecast to once again become a Category 1 hurricane on a path toward the northern U.S. Gulf Coast.

The western Florida Panhandle is under a tropical storm warning, and hurricane warnings have been issued for portions of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts as Zeta tracks northeast – with impacts felt as early as Wednesday.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Zeta was located about 485 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and moving to the northwest at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Maximum sustained winds had fallen to 65 mph following Monday night’s landfall – which brought high winds and heavy rains to Mexico’s Caribbean coast -- but forecasters say Zeta should regain hurricane status as moves over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico later in the day.

Ray Hawthorne, meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, said tropical storm-force winds are likely to arrive in the northern U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday night. The fast-moving storm could also produce between 2 and 4 feet of storm surge.

Hawthorne said isolated tornadoes are also possible as soon as Wednesday afternoon lasting into the night.

The warm waters of the southern Gulf and weak upper-level winds favor the storm regaining hurricane intensity later Tuesday.

A ridge of high pressure over Florida has been steering Zeta toward the northwest, but an approaching trough over the western U.S. is forecast to weaken the ridge and cause the storm to turn toward the north and northeast Wednesday.

The center of Zeta is likely to make landfall in southeast Louisiana on Wednesday afternoon or evening and then move over Mississippi and Alabama Wednesday night before it reaches the Carolinas on Thursday.

Some areas of flooding are possible, Hawthorne said, although Zeta’s fast movement should make freshwater flooding less severe than seen with Hurricane Sally in September.

Storm surge warnings are in effect as the Florida Panhandle could see 2 to 4 feet of water above normally dry ground, with a few places in Louisiana and Mississippi potentially receiving surge of 4 to 6 feet. Smaller water level rises of 1 to 3 feet above normally dry ground are forecast along the Forgotten and Big Bend coasts, which may cause areas of minor coastal flooding.

Areas of inland freshwater flooding are possible, but flooding is not likely to be as substantial as what occurred with a much slower-moving Hurricane Sally in mid-September. Rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches, with locally higher amounts of up to 6 inches, may cause urban, small stream, and minor flooding.

Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. This is only topped by 2005, which had 28 named storms.

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