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Zeta Bears Down On Louisiana Gulf Coast, Will Be Felt In Florida Panhandle

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As Hurricane Zeta readies to make landfall between New Orleans and Biloxi, the outer fringes will lash the Florida Panhandle with wind, rain and storm surge.

That in turn, is affecting early voting.

Early voting continued Wednesday in Santa Rosa County’s 6 locations from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“That will give us time for me to send teams of folks out to all of our sites, get things secured, bring items back that need to be brought back here to our main office,” said Tappie Villane, Elections Supervisor in Santa Rosa.

Some of the main concerns are transportation challenges caused by Hurricane Sally last month, in moving equipment and documents out of harm’s way now.

“We gave ourselves enough time to get everything unloaded [and] secured at our main office in Milton, so I can send my staff and other folks home, before any kind of impacts are going to be felt with Zeta.”

On Thursday, early voting resumes in Santa Rosa County at 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at all six locations. Remember – if you’re in line at seven this evening, you will be allowed to vote.

David Stafford, Escambia County’s Elections Supervisor, was not available for comment. That county’s nine early voting sites closed at 3 p.m. Wednesday and are scheduled to reopen at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, Zeta is approaches the Gulf Coast as a Category-2 storm.  Forecasters, including Ray Hawthorne at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, or FPREN, are confident it will hold true to the projected track.

“The difference between [Hurricane] Sally and Zeta is the ridge of high pressure that’s anchored over the peninsula of Florida; It’s considerably stronger than it was when Sally was around,” Hawthorne said. “Hurricane Zeta is going to stay to the west of Northwest Florida; but that doesn’t mean we’re going to escape some opf the impacts.”

Zeta will make her presence known in Northwest Florida. Hawthorne says expect rain bands to begin moving in this afternoon and intensifying this evening.

“The tropical storm-force winds should arrive between about 5 and 8 this evening; really, the worst of the weather is most likely to occur in about a six-hour period between about 8 o’clock this evening and about 2 to 3  in the morning,” said Hawthorne. That’s when we’re going to see the most frequent tropical storm-force wind and wind gusts, also heavy rain during that time.”

Another major threat from Zeta for the Panhandle is the increased chance of tornadoes spawned by the storm.

“As the storm passes to our northwest, we’re going to be on the ‘dirty’ side – the right-hand side of the storm,” Hawthorne said. “There could be a couple of isolated tornadoes; it’s something that everyone will want to keep their weather radios handy or their cellphones turned on tonight, not in sleep mode, so that you can get those alerts.”

And now, something to look forward to, once Zeta has left the building.

“There’s going to be a cold front following behind it, and behind that cold front conditions will be a lot cooler,” said FPREN’s Ray Hawthorne. “Especially coming up on Thursday and really Friday and the upcoming weekend. And there’s another front coming in early next week. So, once Zeta is out of the way conditions will be more fall-like across Northwest Florida.”