Zeta satellite image
GeoColor satellite image of Hurricane Zeta at 11:10 a.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, 2020. (Image credit: RAMMB/CIRA/Colorado State University)

Rising winds, heavy rains, and a significant storm surge are already affecting the coast of southeast Louisiana, where Hurricane Zeta is expected to come ashore late Wednesday afternoon as a category 1 or 2 hurricane. Zeta, likely to be a multi-billion-dollar storm for the U.S. Gulf Coast, will be the eleventh named storm to make landfall in the U.S. so far in 2020, beating the record of nine U.S. landfalls set in 1916. Update: Zeta made landfall at 4 p.m. CDT Wednesday in southeastern Louisiana near Cocodrie as a high-end category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds.

Wind and storm surge damage are the main threats posed by Zeta. New Orleans’ levee system is expected to be able to handle the expected peak storm surge of six to nine feet without incident, but surge damages will be heavy in southeastern Louisiana beyond the New Orleans levee system.

Zeta’s curving path to the northeast at landfall will bring the Mississippi and Alabama coasts a significant storm surge. The western Florida Panhandle is also predicted to see a damaging storm surge of two to four feet. High tide in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast is near 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday, but with the difference between the day’s low tide and high tide less than four inches, the timing of Zeta’s landfall is less critical with respect to peak storm tide levels.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Radar image of Hurricane Zeta at 11:28 a.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, 2020, as the storm approached the Louisiana coast. (Image credit: Mark Nissenbaum/Florida State University)

Zeta’s curving track at landfall will bring the strong winds of the right front eyewall to a wide swath of the coast, from southeast Louisiana to Mississippi. Given the storm’s very fast forward speed of more than 25 mph at landfall, the winds on the right (east) side of Zeta’s center will be 20 to 30 mph stronger than those on the left (west) side, according to the Wednesday morning runs of the high-resolution hurricane models.

Fortunately, Zeta’s rapid forward speed at landfall will limit rainfall amounts. The current National Hurricane Center forecast calls for two to four inches of rain, with isolated amounts of up to six inches – an unusually low amount for a landfalling hurricane. With one of New Orleans’ key pumps to drain the city of excessive rainwater not operating, though, Zeta may still cause damaging rainwater flooding in the city.

Zeta rapidly intensifying Wednesday

Hurricane hunter aircraft from NOAA and the Air Force reported a steady strengthening of Zeta on Tuesday night and Wednesday, with the central pressure falling from 990 mb at 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday to 970 mb at 4 p.m. CDT Wednesday, and surface winds rising from 65 mph to 110 mph. The NOAA Hurricane Hunters measured a significant wave height of up to 24 feet near the center of Zeta.

Update: In the 24 hours ending at 4 p.m. CDT October 28, Zeta’s 45-mph increase in winds exceeded the National Hurricane Center’s definition of rapid intensification of at least a 35-mph increase in winds in 24 hours. Zeta is the eighth 2020 Atlantic named storm to rapidly intensify, and the fourth consecutive one to do so:

Hurricane Hanna, July 24–25, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Laura, August 26–27, 65 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Sally, September 14–15, 40 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Teddy, September 17–18, 45 mph in 24 hours;
Tropical Storm Gamma, October 2-3, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Delta, October 5–6, 80 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Epsilon, October 20–21, 50 mph in 24 hours; and
Hurricane Zeta, October 27-28, 45 mph in 24 hours.

Hurricanes Isaias, Marco, Nana, and Paulette of 2020 did not rapidly intensify. According to statistics compiled by Tomer Berg, the highest number of rapidly intensifying Atlantic storms since 1979 occurred in 1995, with 10.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Predicted wind speed (colors) and sea level pressure (black lines) for Hurricane Zeta at 5 p.m. EDT (21Z) Wednesday, October 28, from the 2 a.m. EDT (6Z) Wednesday, October 28, run of the HWRF model. The model predicted Zeta would make landfall in Louisiana as a category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

Track and intensity forecasts for Zeta

There isn’t much mystery about where Zeta will make landfall, with southeastern Louisiana squarely in the crosshairs of the storm, according to the tightly clustered computer model forecasts. The eye of Zeta will make landfall between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. CDT in Louisiana, pass over a portion of the New Orleans metropolitan area, and then move into Mississippi about three hours after its initial Louisiana landfall.

It appears that the hoped-for wind shear to weaken Zeta will be late to arrive, and the hurricane will have at least marginal conditions for intensification for most of the remaining hours before landfall. Ocean temperatures beneath Zeta will fall from 27 degrees Celsius (81°F) to 26 degrees Celsius (79°F), and wind shear will increase from about 10 knots to 20 knots – still in the moderate range. Zeta is well-organized enough to be able to resist this expected increase in wind shear and cooling of ocean temperatures. The top intensity models generally predicted with their Wednesday morning runs that Zeta would be a category 1 or 2 hurricane at the time of landfall in Louisiana, and a reasonable uncertainty range for Zeta’s landfall intensity is between 75 and 110 mph winds – category 1 or 2 hurricane strength.

The live storm surge tracker at Trabus Technologies showed Zeta was generating a storm surge in excess of two feet along the Louisiana coast Wednesday afternoon. As of 4 p.m. CDT Wednesday, top storm surge levels observed were:

Port Fourchon, LA: 3.1 feet;
Freshwater Canal Locks, LA: 2.8 feet; and
Southwest Pass, LA: 2.5 feet.

Zeta likely to be one of strongest landfalling U.S. hurricanes so late in the year

Steve Bowen tweet

Going back to 1851, only five hurricanes have made a mainland U.S. landfall on October 28 or later; Zeta is likely to be the sixth (see Tweet by Steve Bowen of Aon). The five hurricanes were:

Kate, November 21, 1985, category 2, 100 mph winds;
Juan, October 29, 1985, category 1, 85 mph winds;
Unnamed, November 4, 1935, category 2, 100 mph winds;
Unnamed, October 31, 1899, category 2, 110 mph winds; and
Unnamed, November 2, 1861, category 1, 80 mph winds.

Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University says Zeta is the strongest hurricane ever recorded so far to the west in the Gulf of Mexico this late in the year. If Zeta makes landfall as a hurricane, it will be the sixth continental U.S. landfalling hurricane this year, tying 2020 with 1886 and 1985 for most continental U.S. landfalling hurricanes in a single Atlantic season on record.

Zeta will also be the fifth named storm to make landfall in Louisiana this year, along with Tropical Storm Cristobal, Tropical Storm Marco, Hurricane Laura, and Hurricane Delta. The previous record for most landfalls in a single season in Louisiana was four in 2002, when Tropical Storm Bertha, Tropical Storm Hanna, Tropical Storm Isidore, and Hurricane Lili all made landfall.

What if the name Zeta needs to be retired?

According to the World Meteorological Organization, if the name Zeta needs to be retired from the list of hurricane names as a result of its impact on Mexico and the U.S., it would be retired as “Zeta 2020” and Zeta would continue to be used when the Greek alphabet is needed again.

Delta, which made landfall in western Louisiana on October 9 as a category 2 storm with 100 mph winds, is already a candidate to have its name retired in this fashion. Risk modeler RMS is estimating that Delta did up to $5 billion in insured damage to the U.S. and Mexico, and additional billions in uninsured damage may yet add to that hefty price tag.

Historically, the names of every hurricane doing at least $3 billion in damage have been retired.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Damage from Hurricane Zeta on Cozumel Island on October 27, 2020. (Image credit: Frank Villanueva)

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula cleans up after Zeta becomes third ‘Greek’ storm of October

Hurricane Zeta made landfall near Tulum, Mexico at 11 p.m. CDT Monday night, October 26, as a category 1 storm with 80 mph winds and a 978 mb central pressure.

Near the time of landfall, a Weatherflow station just south of Playa del Carmen reported sustained winds of 74 mph with a gust to 87 mph. Another Weatherflow station in Cancun reported sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts up to 79 mph. A storm surge of over one meter (3.28 feet) was observed at Puerto Morelos, and rainfall amounts of up to seven inches occurred about 50 miles inland from Zeta’s landfall location.

Zeta did considerable damage to trees, power poles, and billboards in Mexico, but no major damages or deaths or injuries were reported, said the governor of the Quintana Roo state. Tree damage was higher than is usual for a category 1 hurricane, as many of the trees had already been weakened by the landfalls of category 2 Hurricane Delta (110 mph winds) on October 7 and Tropical Storm Gamma (70 mph winds) on October 3. Zeta knocked out power to 253,000 customers in Mexico, but service had been restored to nearly 80% of them by Tuesday night.

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Posted on October 28, 2020(1:20pm EDT).

Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...

39 replies on “Hurricane Zeta steadily intensifies ahead of expected landfall in southeastern Louisiana”

  1. Tropical Weather Outlook
    NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
    800 AM EDT Fri Oct 30 2020

    For the North Atlantic…Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

    Shower activity continues to become better organized in association
    with a tropical wave located over the eastern Caribbean Sea.
    Conditions are conducive for further development of this system,
    and a tropical depression is likely to form this weekend or early
    next week as the system moves into the central and western Caribbean
    * Formation chance through 48 hours…high…70 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days…high…80 percent.

    Forecaster Papin/Berg

  2. what a difference a day makes...............Area Forecast Discussion
    National Weather Service Tampa Bay Ruskin FL
    401 AM EDT Fri Oct 30 2020
    ...High Risk Of Rip Currents Through Early Saturday...
    ...Noticeably Drier And Cooler Weather Today...
    ...Coolest Temps So Far This Season Possible Early Next Week...
    .SHORT TERM (Today - Saturday)...
    A cold front across the central Florida peninsula early this
    morning will move south of the forecast area by early afternoon.
    A band of showers along and ahead of the front will continue to
    move south and east in tandem with the front with any remaining
    showers over southern areas ending by mid/late morning as drier
    and cooler air filters into the region in the wake of the front on
    a northwest to northerly wind flow. The cooler drier air moving
    into the region will support near seasonal level temperatures with
    highs in the mid to upper 70s north, and upper 70s to lower 80s
    central and south.
    Tonight into Saturday some very delightful weather is expected
    with mainly clear skies, noticeably lower humidity levels, and
    near seasonal level temperatures as high pressure builds along the
    eastern seaboard. Very comfortable conditions are expected
    tonight through Saturday with lows tonight falling into the mid to
    upper 50s across the Nature Coast, and lower to mid 60s central
    and south. During Saturday boundary layer winds will veer to the
    northeast and east which will allow temperatures to moderate some
    with readings climbing back into the lower to mid 80s from north
    to south during the afternoon.
  3. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #19 – 3:00 AM JST October 30 2020
    TYPHOON GONI (T2019)
    Sea East of the Philippines

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Typhoon Goni (980 hPa) located at 16.4N 133.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 70 knots with gusts of 100 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 9 knots.

    Storm Force Winds
    40 nm from the center

    Gale Force Winds
    120 nm from the center

    Dvorak Intensity: T4.5-

    Forecast and Intensity
    24 HRS: 15.8N 130.1E – 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
    48 HRS: 14.5N 126.4E – 90 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
    72 HRS: 15.3N 121.1E – 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Over land Nueva Ecija (Luzon/Philippines)


    Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #7 – 3:00 AM JST October 30 2020
    Caroline Islands

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Storm Atsani (1000 hPa) located at 9.2N 147.5E has 10 minute sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving north northwest at 12 knots.

    Gale Force Winds
    150 nm from the center

    Dvorak Intensity: T1.5

    Forecast and Intensity
    12 HRS: 11.2N 145.8E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Marianas islands (South Southeast of Guam)
    24 HRS: 12.5N 142.7E – 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Marianas islands (Southwest of Guam)
    48 HRS: 15.2N 138.9E – 65 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
    72 HRS: 17.6N 134.8E – 80 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

    Tropical Weather Outlook
    NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
    200 PM EDT Thu Oct 29 2020
    For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:
    The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Zeta, located 
    over Virginia.
    1. A large area of disturbed weather in the vicinity of the Lesser 
    Antilles is associated with a tropical wave.  Upper-level winds are 
    expected to become more conducive for development of this 
    disturbance during the next couple of days, and a tropical 
    depression could form over the weekend or early next week while the 
    system moves westward across the central and western Caribbean Sea.
    * Formation chance through 48 hours...low...20 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days...medium...60 percent.
    Forecaster Pasch
  5. Good afternoon to all, my latest birdseye view chart and post on the Atlantic tropics is up at this link. Information on Tropical Storm Zeta explaining how it still is a tropical storm with high winds far inland, and also our disturbance to develop in the Caribbean Sea in the immediate wake of Zeta.

    Even though this Caribbean disturbance may develop in the same place Zeta formed, I think at this time we will be spared from another US Gulf coast landfall this time around as a strong surface ridge to build over the United States will thwart its approach (presumably to be named Tropical Storm “Eta”, and if it does get named it will be the most number of tropical storms ever recorded in an Atlantic season on record). But that’s bad news for Nicaragua and Honduras, as that ridge will keep this next storm suppressed to the south. I am hoping forecast “Eta” will be the last major storm of the season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if after “Eta” we get some open ocean late season subtropical or tropical storms that hopefully stay over the open ocean.

    1. That thing by the Bahamas is subtropical at best – the low is very elongated, it doesn’t have any convection on the south or east sides, and it almost looks like the SW side is a frontal boundary (look at the wind barbs, and how sharply they turn).

      Oh, and it is 12 days out. Might have better luck looking at tea leaves.

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