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Zeta Becomes Season's 11th Hurricane Before Reaching the Gulf of Mexico

3pm ET / 2pm CT Update:

Huricane hunters found winds up to 80 mph on their most recent pass through Zeta's center, making it the eleventh hurricane of the 2020 season. There were no other changes from the National Hurricane Center at that time, but Hurricane Watches are expected to be issued for portions of the northern Gulf Coast states in their next full advisory Monday evening.

11am ET / 10am CT Update:

After rapidly strengthening late Sunday night, strong upper-level winds have prevented Zeta from gaining strengthening Monday morning. Top sustained winds remain near 70 mph. The National Hurricane Center says Zeta is still forecast to achieve hurricane status before making landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula late Monday evening. It also said watches are likely to be issued along a portion of the northern Gulf coast late Monday in anticipation of the storm's arrival on Wednesday.

Original story from 8am Monday:

Zeta rapidly strengthened overnight on its approach to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is expected to be the season’s eighth landfalling tropical storm or hurricane on the U.S. Gulf coast this week.

The National Hurricane Center said Zeta had top sustained winds of 70 mph as of its mid-morning advisory on Monday. It is moving toward the northwest near 9 mph. Hurricane Warnings are in effect for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Zeta is expected to make its first landfall late Monday evening. 4 to 8 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts, and 1 to 3 feet of storm surge are expected near and to the north of where the center makes landfall on the Yucatan, the Hurricane Center said.

Zeta is expected to emerge in the southern Gulf of Mexico some time Tuesday morning, where it should regain any strength that it loses over its brief path over the Yucatan. Water temperatures and light to moderate wind shear are forecast in the southern Gulf and should be favorable for maintaining a hurricane through at least Tuesday. Several cold fronts have already penetrated the shelf waters of the northern Gulf this fall season, so water temperatures are a bit cooler closer to the coast. Increasing wind shear and somewhat cooler water may lead to some weakening as Zeta approaches the northern Gulf coast later Wednesday; however, the storm is most likely to be a strong tropical storm or category 1 hurricane at landfall.

Computer model simulations are in somewhat better agreement Monday than they were over the weekend regarding Zeta’s future path. A strong ridge of high pressure over Florida will guide Zeta northward through the Gulf before the approach of an upper trough from the mid-latitudes erodes the ridge and causes Zeta to curve more toward the northeast. Nearly all reliable models predict landfall between Louisiana and the far western edge of the Florida Panhandle some time on Wednesday. The greatest risk of storm surge, localized flooding, and tropical storm force winds are in those areas, with the first arrival of sustained tropical storm winds most likely Wednesday afternoon or evening. Isolated tornadoes are possible, especially Wednesday evening into Thursday morning into the Florida Panhandle.

Conditions are likely to improve somewhat along the Gulf coast on Thursday as the storm moves inland. However, heavy rain, isolated tornadoes, and flooding may accompany a weakening Zeta during the day on Thursday in the Carolinas. Residents there are also encouraged to monitor forecasts later this week as the storm’s path and affects become more certain.

After Zeta moves into the Atlantic on Friday, there are some signals for another tropical system in the western Caribbean during the first week of November. It is far too soon to predict what effects, if any, that potential system would have on the U.S. 

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Ray Hawthorne