Monday, October 26th 2020, 4:11 pm - Though not expected to reach major hurricane status, Zeta’s emergence is a significant milestone for this above-average Atlantic hurricane season.
After a quick transformation to tropical storm status in the Caribbean over the weekend, Zeta has now strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane, in what has already been an above-average storm season.
As of 4 p.m. EDT Monday, Zeta boasted winds near 130 km/h and was roughly 170 kilometres southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. The National Hurricane Center says it is currently moving northwest at 17 km/h.
"On the forecast track, the centre of Zeta will move near or over the northern Yucatan Peninsula later today or tonight, move over the southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, and approach the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday," the NHC says.
A hurricane warning is already in effect for Cozumel and Tulum to Rio Lagartos in Mexico. A tropical storm warning is also in effect for parts of Cuba and south of Tulum to Punta Allen and west of Dzilam to Progreso in Mexico.
While a landfall onto the U.S. Gulf Coast is a certain possibility sometime on Wednesday, Zeta is not presently expected to become a major hurricane.
However, Zeta could disrupt oil production, which prompted oil producer BP (British Petroleum) to begin shut-in production at its Gulf of Mexico platforms and assets ahead of Zeta's arrival, after initiating a staff evacuation Sunday.
However, it is remarkable in other ways. Most interestingly, Zeta is only the second named storm in history to take on that moniker. As well, if it does makes landfall onto the U.S. Gulf Coast as predicted, it will be the 11th named storm in 2020 to do so, tying a record. If it does comes onshore in Louisiana, it will be the state's fifth landfalling storm this year.
Heavy rainfall will be expansive along and east-northeast of Zeta's track. Totals of 100-200 mm, with local amounts of 300 mm, are possible through Wednesday along Zeta's track from Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, central to western Cuba and the northeastern section of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Between Tuesday night and Thursday, 50-100 mm of rain is expected across portions of the central U.S. Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, southern Appalachians, and Mid-Atlantic States near and in advance of Zeta.
"The expected rainfall could lead to flash, urban, and small stream flooding, along with minor river flooding," warns the NHC.
In 2005, Tropical Storm Zeta was the capstone of that year's remarkable hurricane season, which remains the record for most named storms. That season was the first to exhaust the traditional hurricane name list, with subsequent storms being designated with letters from the Greek alphabet.
2020's Zeta not only ties the current season with 2005 for the most number of named storms, it may also be a stepping stone into uncharted territory.
2005's Zeta formed much later, in December, long after the "official" end of the Atlantic hurricane season at the end of November. It also lasted into 2006, only dissipating on January 6th. So there's a non-zero chance further named storms may beckon after this year's Zeta has died down.
Check back as we continue to monitor the track and status of Zeta.
With files from Reuters.