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Zeta Triggers Hurricane Warning For New Orleans As Gulf Coast Awaits Storm

Zeta will likely hit coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi as a Category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center says.
Zeta will likely hit coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi as a Category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center says.

Zeta will strengthen on its way across the Gulf of Mexico, likely hitting the U.S. coast as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said. Parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are now under hurricane warnings, including metro New Orleans.

"This is a life-threatening situation," the hurricane center said Tuesday, urging people to take precautions against the risk of flooding and other hazards.

The system is currently a tropical storm, weakened by its landfall overnight on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Zeta has sustained winds up to 65 mph, the hurricane center said in its 2 p.m. ET update. The storm is traveling northwest at 14 mph.

Zeta will make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast late Wednesday afternoon or night before moving across the Southeast early Thursday, the center said. The forecast path sees the center of the storm passing near Biloxi, Miss.

If Zeta hits the U.S. coast as a hurricane, it would be latest hurricane landfall on the continental U.S. since Kate in 1985, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. It's following a path that's similar to other recent storms such as Hurricane Delta, which passed over Mexico's state of Quintana Roo before spinning its way to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Zeta's large size and angular approach to the shore mean a broad area is under alert. Tropical storm warnings extend inland to an area just south of Montgomery, Ala.

A hurricane warning was issued early Tuesday morning from Morgan City, La., eastward to the Mississippi-Alabama border — a warning area that includes New Orleans. Such warnings are normally issued 36 hours before the anticipated first arrival of tropical storm-force winds.

Zeta could bring a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet of water in worst-hit areas, the hurricane center said. A storm surge warning is in effect from Intracoastal City, La., to Navarre, Fla., including several bodies of water that are near the shore, such as Mobile Bay, Lake Pontchartrain and Pensacola Bay.

"It's real important," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said Tuesday in an online briefing. "If the local officials tell you to get out of these low areas, you've got to listen to them, because the storm surge is historically the most deadly part of these tropical systems."

The storm is expected to speed up a bit as it nears the coast, a shift that could lessen the impact of its heavy rains. A wide area of the shore will be affected: Zeta is extending tropical storm-force winds outward for up to 140 miles, the hurricane center said.

Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. The most ever in a single season was 28, a mark that was set in 2005, the hurricane center said.

The next three storms on the official list, drawn from the Greek alphabet because the roster of full names is exhausted, would be called Eta, Theta and Iota.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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