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2020's hurricane season heads even further into record territory

Wednesday, May 12th 2021, 8:41 pm - With the reclassification of Hurricane Zeta to Category 3 status, 2020 now features the latest-landfalling major hurricane on record in the U.S.

2020's Atlantic hurricane season, with its 30 named storms and deep foray into the Greek alphabet, was already a record showing for tropical weather.

Now, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre (NHC) has revised one of the season's storms, Zeta, from Category 2 to Category 3, according to a report released Tuesday.

The NHC regards any storm that reaches the Category 3 minimum wind threshold of 178 km/h as a "major" hurricane. With this week's reclassification, Zeta becomes the seventh of 2020's bumper crop of hurricanes to attain that distinction – tying with 2005 for most number of major hurricanes in a single season.

Zeta is now also the latest-landfalling major hurricane on record in the U.S., three days later and just shy of a century after the so-called Tampa Bay Hurricane made landfall on October 25th, 1921.

Hurricane Zeta NASA Earth Observatory Hurricane Zeta, shown here on October 28th, 2020, as it was poised to make landfall in Louisiana, was the fifth storm to strike that state at the tail end of a record hurricane season. (NASA/Terra—MODIS)

READ MORE: Experts predict above average 2021 Atlantic hurricane season

Zeta had a wide-ranging impact on the Caribbean, beginning first with a landfall in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on October 27th as a Category 1 storm. Though losing some of its intensity during its passage through the peninsula, it re-strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico and made a second landfall in Louisiana on October 28th as a Category 3 storm.

The storm's intensity meant it had an impact deep into the United States, with rainfall up to 150 mm for the hardest-hit areas, and locally higher amounts, along with extensive wind damage and storm surge in excess of 3 metres for part of the Louisiana coast.

In all, the storm claimed five lives and inflicted $4.4 billion in damage, near the tail-end of a costly season that saw five named storms strike Louisiana alone, including another major storm, Category-4 Hurricane Laura.

Zeta Louisiana Active Season

As a whole, 2020 was the most active hurricane season on record in terms of named storms, with a tally of 30, two more than the 28 tallied by the 2005 season.

2020 was also the second year where the number of storms outpaced the 21-name Latin list used by the NHC, forcing the use of the alternate Greek alphabet for the second time since 2005. By season's end, nine storms were given Greek names, the last being Iota, which reached a peak of Category 5 status in November.

In March this year, the World Meteorological Organization announced it would no longer use the Greek alphabet, for fear it would be distracting and confusing. Future storms will be given names from a secondary Latin list.

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