NEW ORLEANS (CN) — The Gulf Coast is keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Zeta, which is expected to make landfall Wednesday night as a Category 1 hurricane in what has been an unprecedented hurricane season.
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 hit the state this hurricane season.
Zeta made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula late Monday, but was downgraded back to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph early Tuesday. It is expected to regain strength over the Gulf of Mexico as it slowly churns toward the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane warnings were issued for much of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday morning, extending from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border, an area that includes metropolitan New Orleans and Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. Coastal Alabama and Florida are under a warning for storm surge.
Zeta is expected to be moving quickly with strong winds and heavy rainfall when it makes landfall Wednesday night. According to the National Hurricane Center’s 7 a.m. update Tuesday, the tropical storm is about 540 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and tracking northwest at 14 mph with winds at 70 mph. Hurricane force winds start at 74 mph.
Preparations are underway in the New Orleans metro area, with voluntary evacuations called for in areas outside of the levee system, including Irish Bayou, Venetian Isles, and Lake Catherine, starting Tuesday evening.
The Sewerage and Water Board in New Orleans announced Monday that flooding from Zeta could be more of an issue than initially expected because one of the city’s four turbines that power drainage pumps unexpectedly stopped working over the weekend.
A news release from S&WB officials Monday said Turbine 4 “unexpectedly went offline yesterday,” was being inspected in preparation for repairs and would not be available in time to pump out whatever rainfall Zeta brings to the city.
“This means areas that normally flood during heavy rain events could take longer to drain, depending on rain intensity and coverage,” the agency said.
The latest forecast from the hurricane center predicts rainfall of 2 to 4 inches, with 6 inches possible in isolated areas.
Hurricane season lasts from June through the end of November.
This has been the most active hurricane season in 15 years for Louisiana. If Zeta makes landfall there, it would be fifth named storm to slam into the state after Cristobal, Marco, Laura and Delta. Hurricane Laura devastated west Louisiana, including Lake Charles, in late August while Hurricane Delta wreaked havoc in Cameron Parish earlier this month.
Another storm, Hurricane Sally, drenched and pummeled Alabama and parts of Florida last month.
Forecasters began using the Greek alphabet in September after all of the designated names for the 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season had been used up.