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Category 2 Zeta Makes Landfall on Louisiana Coast

Hurricane Zeta is expected to make landfall in southeast Louisiana as a Category 2 storm Wednesday afternoon, taking aim at the New Orleans metropolitan area where local authorities cautioned that the draining pump system is not functioning properly.

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Hurricane Zeta made landfall Wednesday afternoon on the southern tip of Louisiana, with top winds falling just below the threshold for a Category 3 storm.

The storm reached the coastline around 4 p.m. local time and first hit the small fishing village of Cocoderie, roughly 85 miles southeast of New Orleans in Terrebonne Parish. Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Cocoderie in September 2008 and Hurricane Matthew hit very close by in October 2004.

The center of Zeta is on track to make landfall again Wednesday evening along the Mississippi coast, according to the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

Maximum sustained winds as of the 4 p.m. update were 110 mph with higher gusts. A hurricane is considered Category 3 when sustained winds reach 111 mph. The storm is expected to weaken as it moves across the southern and southeastern states Thursday.

Life-threatening storm surge is also forecast in the latest chapter of this unprecedented hurricane season. Zeta is the 27th named storm this year. Forecasts in June predicted a very active hurricane season, which experts at the time suggested could mean around 12 named storms.

“We’ve had a lot of near misses this year, but it is now clear that Zeta will be a direct hit,” read a message texted to residents by New Orleans city officials Tuesday night. Another text early Wednesday morning urged residents to finish hurricane prep and be ready to shelter in place by 2 p.m.  

Zeta had been predicted to hit earlier in the week as a strong tropical storm or weak Category 1, but forecasts from the National Hurricane Center overnight placed it as a much stronger Category 2, with tops winds at around 100 mph. It was moving quickly at about 18 mph.

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Tropical Storm Zeta, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, at 10:52 GMT (06:52 EDT). (NOAA/NESDIS/STAR via AP)

Hurricane warnings for the storm extend from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border and include lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas as well as metro New Orleans.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency in advance of Zeta as he has done several times this fall as hurricane after hurricane has made landfall in the state.  

This is the seventh time this year that Louisiana has been in the “cone of uncertainty,” which is the path used by forecasters to predict where a tropical storm or hurricane might make landfall. Four named storms have already slammed into Louisiana this hurricane season.

The Sewerage & Water Board in New Orleans announced Monday that flooding from Zeta could be more of an issue than initially expected because one of four turbines needed to power the city’s drainage pumping system was out of commission. Later Tuesday, in a situation the Times-Picayune reported as being akin to “to walking a tightrope without a net,” the agency told the newspaper that two of four turbines are not working correctly.

S&WB said having fewer functioning turbines may not be a problem since Zeta is supposed to be moving quickly and the relatively low rainfall totals predicted are not expected to push all drainage pumps to their limit. But General Superintendent Bob Turner told the Times-Picayune that the loss of another power source during the storm could require the mechanism responsible for pumping water out of New Orleans to ration power among its various pumping stations.

“At that point in time we’d have to probably do some juggling with pumps,” Turner told the newspaper. “That would be a real drastic situation.”

Unfortunately, the agency’s pump and turbine system has an uncanny way of failing just as storms are approaching New Orleans. In June, the Gentilly area of the city flooded during a rainstorm after the agency lost its main source of power to operate many of its pumps. In May 2019, five inches of rain unexpectedly poured down and five of the city’s 120 pumps did not function properly. Residents lost property and cars again that July as Hurricane Barry brought heavy rain and the city’s pump system once again did not operate correctly.  

But even when the city’s pumping system is mostly working, it is not equipped to withstand the heaviest rainfall, such as in July 2019, when six inches of rain in one hour inundated the city and all but two of the pumps were working at capacity. Fortunately, Zeta is forecast to bring just 2 to 4 inches of rain.

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