Hurricane Zeta damage
A partially collapsed apartment building in the New Orleans suburb of Terrytown after Hurricane Zeta. (Image credit: Jefferson Parish)

Hurricane Zeta made landfall at 4 p.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, 2020, in southeastern Louisiana near Cocodrie as a high-end category 2 storm with 110 mph winds and a central pressure of 970 mb. Zeta is the strongest hurricane to make a U.S. landfall this late in the year since an October 31, 1899, hurricane (also a category 2 storm with 110 mph winds) hit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Eye of Zeta
Figure 1. The eye of Hurricane Zeta as seen in New Orleans at sunset on October 28. (Image credit: Wesley Hollingsworth)

At least three deaths are being blamed on Zeta. The hurricane did extensive roof, tree, and power pole damage well inland along its path. See this video of a home losing its roof in the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette, and a video from WDSU taken on Grand Isle, a barrier island near where Zeta made its initial landfall, showing large homes with their roofs torn off, a crumpled gas station canopy, and downed utility poles and wires.

A few collapsed buildings were reported in Louisiana from Zeta’s winds, including an apartment building that partially collapsed in Terrytown, injuring one person. For more detail on Zeta’s impacts, see the weather.com story on the storm.

Radar image of landfall
Figure 2. Radar image of Hurricane Zeta at 3:48 p.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, as the storm was making landfall on the Louisiana coast. (Image credit: Mark Nissenbaum/Florida State University)

Zeta’s winds and gusts

The primary damage from Zeta’s landfall was due to the hurricane’s winds, which gusted over 100 mph at numerous locations, helping cause the second largest power outage of the year in the U.S.: About 2.6 million customers were without power Thursday morning. The top power outage of 2020 occurred in August, when Hurricane Isaias knocked out power to 6.8 customers, including 400,000 in PUerto Rico. According to the National Weather Service in New Orleans, these were the top winds recorded during Zeta’s landfall:

112 mph – Bayou Bienvenue, LA;
104 mph – Bay Waveland Yacht Club, MS;
101 mph – Gulfport, MS;
101 mph – Shell Beach, LA; and
100 mph – Laplace, LA.

An oil rig maintained by Louisiana Offshore Oil Port recorded a wave height of 49.9 feet on Wednesday afternoon during the passage of Zeta’s eyewall; an automated camera on the rig caught the impressive waves in this video.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Zeta knocked out power to 2.6 million customers in the southeastern U.S. as of 9:35 a.m. CDT Thursday, according to poweroutage.us. An additional 370,000 customers were without power in the Southern Plains as a result of an exceptional ice storm earlier this week.
Figure 4
Figure 4. rainfall amounts for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, October 29. (Image credit: NOAA)

Limited rainfall amounts

Figure 5
Figure 5. Water levels observed in Waveland, Mississippi during the passage of Hurricane Zeta. A storm surge of 8.7 feet brought major coastal flooding. (Image credit: NOAA)

With Zeta’s very rapid forward speed of 24 mph at landfall and subsequent acceleration, the hurricane dumped relatively low amounts of rain along its path: just two to five inches, with one small area of six inches near the Mississippi-Alabama border. As of 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, just two river gauges along Zeta’s path were reporting minor flooding, and there were no reports of moderate or major flooding.

A significant storm surge

Zeta generated a significant storm surge along the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coasts near and to the right of where the center came ashore, and also in Lake Pontchartrain, to the north of New Orleans. The live storm surge tracker at Trabus Technologies (https://surge.trabus.net/) documented these top storm surge heights from Zeta:

Waveland, MS: 8.7 feet;
Pascagoula, MS: 7.4 feet;
Bayou La Batre, AL: 7.2 feet; and
Mobile, AL: 6.2 feet.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Continental U.S. landfalls in 2020. (Image credit: Steve Bowen, Aon)

Zeta is record-breaking 11th named storm of a season to hit U.S.

Zeta is the 11th named storm to make landfall in the U.S. in 2020, beating the record of nine U.S. landfalls in a single year, set in 1916. Third place is jointly held by 2004, and 1985, with eight. Remarkably, none of the 2020 landfalls have occurred in Florida, which is the most hurricane-prone state. From 1851 through 2019, the U.S. averaged 3.2 named storm landfalls per year, 1.6 hurricane landfalls, and 0.5 major hurricane landfalls.

Figure 7
Figure 7. In NOAA’s historical hurricanes database, Zeta is the strongest hurricane on record with a center passing directly over the city of New Orleans (light orange area). Note that many other famous and damaging hurricanes had their center pass within 20 miles of the city limits, but are not shown on this map.

What if the name Zeta needs to be retired?

The price tag for Hurricane Zeta’s impact in the U.S. will undoubtedly be in the billions of dollars, making Zeta deserving of having its name retired. However, since the Greek alphabet will likely be needed again in a future Atlantic hurricane season, the name “Zeta” cannot be retired.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, if 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. Insurance broker 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.

Comic
Since the Greek alphabet has 24 letters, it is highly unlikely that 2020 will reach “Omega” and exhaust the list of Greek names (45 named storms!). If that does happen, Randall Munroe, who creates the xkcd comic (https://xkcd.com/944/), proposes that we use random dictionary words.

Expect an active November in the Atlantic

While many no doubt are eager for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to be done, it is not ready to be done with us. Three factors point to a potentially active November:

1) Ocean temperatures are about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.0°F) above average in the Caribbean, southern Gulf of Mexico, and waters near the Bahamas, the primary breeding grounds for late-season tropical cyclones.

2) La Niña conditions strengthened during October, and crossed the threshold for a “strong” event early this week. Strong La Niña conditions typically reduce wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, favoring tropical cyclone formation.

3) The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), a pattern of increased thunderstorm activity near the equator that moves around the globe in 30 – 60 days, now favors tropical cyclone formation in the Atlantic. The MJO will propagate eastwards, and will continue to favor tropical cyclone formation in the Atlantic until mid-November (Figure 8).

Figure 8
Figure 8. In this velocity potential (VP) anomaly forecast* from October 29, the MJO brings negative 200 mb VP anomalies (blue colors) and increased odds of tropical cyclone formation to the tropical Atlantic for the week ending November 5 (top), with these negative 200 mb VP anomalies shifting eastwards over the eastern Atlantic for the week ending November 12 (bottom). (Image credit: Michael Ventrice).

*The amount of rising or sinking air in the atmosphere can be inferred from the 200 mb velocity potential (VP) departure from average (also called the anomaly). Negative 200 mb VP anomalies mean that upper-level winds at the 200 mb level are diverging, causing rising air from below to replace the air diverging away at high altitudes. This rising air helps nurture thunderstorm updrafts, and favors low pressure and increased chances of tropical cyclone formation. Conversely, positive 200 mb VP anomalies imply converging air aloft, where sinking air, high pressure, and dry conditions will be unfavorable for tropical cyclone formation. In this plot, negative 200 mb VP anomalies (divergence) are cool-colored contours (the scale shows the departure from average in standard deviations); positive 200 mb VP anomalies (convergence) are warm-colored contours.

Watching a tropical wave moving into the Caribbean

A tropical wave entering the Lesser Antilles Islands on Thursday will be moving west at 10–15 mph through the Caribbean over the coming days. The wave is producing a moderate amount of disorganized heavy thunderstorms, and it is not likely to develop through Friday because of high wind shear.

Forecasts from the GFS and European models have consistently predicted that when this tropical wave pushes into the central Caribbean early next week, it will interact with a large area of low pressure and spawn yet another Caribbean tropical storm. The waters offshore from Nicaragua are predicted to be the most likely formation area.

September 2020 was the warmest September on record, NOAA reports

The current model consensus is that this potential storm would be trapped to the south of a strong ridge of high pressure and steered westward, with a potential landfall in Nicaragua or Honduras between Monday and Wednesday. However, about 10% of the members of the Thursday morning runs of the European and GFS ensemble models showed that the system could move northwards and be a threat to Cuba late next week.

In a 2 p.m. EDT Thursday Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave this system 2-day and 5-day odds of development of 20% and 60%, respectively. The next name on the Atlantic list of storms is the seventh letter in the Greek alphabet, Eta.

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Posted on October 29, 2020 (3:51pm EDT). Edit made on October 30.

Topics: Weather Extremes
23 Comments
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Marlyn Guillen
Marlyn Guillen
23 days ago

Our class read the article that was very informative. Thanks for the update, statistics and videos.

HadesGodWyvern
HadesGodWyvern
29 days ago

Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #25 – 21:00 PM JST October 30 2020
TYPHOON GONI (T2019)
=============================================
Sea East of the Philippines

At 12:00 PM UTC, Typhoon Goni (915 hPa) located at 16.1N 130.9E has 10 minute sustained winds of 115 knots with gusts of 165 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west southwest at 7 knots.

Storm Force Winds
===================
50 nm from the center

Gale Force Winds
==================
150 nm from the center

Dvorak Intensity: T7.5

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
12 HRS: 15.5N 128.7E – 115 knots (CAT 5/Intense Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
24 HRS: 14.8N 126.3E – 110 knots (CAT 5/Intense Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
48 HRS: 14.9N 121.0E – 65 knots (CAT 1/Strong Typhoon) Over land Bulacan province (Luzon/Philippines)
72 HRS: 15.6N 115.5E – 45 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) South China Sea

———————————————————————————–

Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #13 – 21:00 PM JST October 30 2020
TROPICAL STORM ATSANI (T2020)
=============================================
Marianas islands (Southwest of Guam)

At 12:00 PM UTC, Tropical Storm Atsani (1002 hPa) located at 11.5N 141.7E has 10 minute sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 19 knots.

Gale Force Winds
=================
150 nm from the center

Dvorak Intensity: T2.0

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
12 HRS: 12.8N 139.7E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
24 HRS: 14.5N 138.2E – 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
48 HRS: 17.1N 134.0E – 60 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
72 HRS: 18.5N 130.5E – 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

Mary Battle
Mary Battle
29 days ago

I wonder if future ETA could pull a Hurricane Mitch – HM was in late October in a strong developing LaNina and didn’t pull north until after great destruction in Central America.

David
David
26 days ago
Reply to  Mary Battle

Looks like you may have called this…

Art
Art
29 days ago

Good morning and Happy Friday everyone

Albin Holder
Albin Holder
29 days ago
Reply to  Art

“Eggbeater”goes west:happy. “Eggbeater”goes north:sad.

Art
Art
29 days ago
ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 AM EDT Fri Oct 30 2020

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

1. Shower activity associated with a large area of disturbed weather 
over the Lesser Antilles and the eastern Caribbean Sea has become a 
little more concentrated this evening.  Conditions are expected to 
be conducive for development of this disturbance during the next 
few days, and a tropical depression is likely to form by the time 
the system reaches the western Caribbean Sea early next week.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...40 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...high...80 percent.

Forecaster Beven
HadesGodWyvern
HadesGodWyvern
29 days ago

Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #23 – 15:00 PM JST October 30 2020
TYPHOON GONI (T2019)
=============================================
Sea East of the Philippines

At 6:00 AM UTC, Typhoon Goni (945 hPa) located at 16.4N 131.6E has 10 minute sustained winds of 100 knots with gusts of 140 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 11 knots.

Storm Force Winds
===================
40 nm from the center

Gale Force Winds
==================
120 nm from the center

Dvorak Intensity: T6.5

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
12 HRS: 15.9N 129.7E – 105 knots (CAT 5/Intense Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
24 HRS: 15.2N 127.7E – 110 knots (CAT 5/Intense Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
48 HRS: 14.7N 122.5E – 95 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
72 HRS: 16.3N 117.0E – 45 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) South China Sea

——————————————————————————–

Tropical Cyclone Advisory #11 – 15:00 PM JST October 30 2020
TROPICAL STORM ATSANI (T2020)
=============================================
Marianas islands (South Southwest of Guam)

At 6:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Atsani (1000 hPa) located at 10.8N 143.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 19 knots.

Gale Force Winds
=================
150 nm from the center

Dvorak Intensity: T2.0

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
12 HRS: 11.7N 140.8E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Marianas islands (Southwest of Guam)
24 HRS: 13.0N 139.0E – 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
48 HRS: 16.0N 135.9E – 70 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines
72 HRS: 17.8N 131.9E – 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

Susan Anderson
Susan Anderson
29 days ago

Love xkcd. Eggbeater, huh!

HadesGodWyvern
HadesGodWyvern
29 days ago

Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #22 – 12:00 PM JST October 30 2020
TYPHOON GONI (T2019)
=============================================
Sea East of the Philippines

At 3:00 AM UTC, Typhoon Goni (960 hPa) located at 16.4N 132.2E has 10 minute sustained winds of 90 knots with gusts of 130 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west at 8 knots.

Storm Force Winds
===================
40 nm from the center

Gale Force Winds
==================
120 nm from the center

Dvorak Intensity:

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
24 HRS: 15.3N 128.7E – 110 knots (CAT 5/Intense Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

Uziel Snyder
Uziel Snyder
29 days ago

I can’t pass the opportunity to post my favourite hurricane related xkcd comic!comment image

Diablo Flaco
Diablo Flaco
29 days ago

So will the next storm be named Eta? We already had an E for Epsilon….

Uziel Snyder
Uziel Snyder
29 days ago
Reply to  Diablo Flaco

Not to mention Edouard! Third E storm of the season!

Albin Holder
Albin Holder
29 days ago
Reply to  Uziel Snyder

Now “Eggbeater” is 4 E storms. I’m confused.

Albin Holder
Albin Holder
29 days ago
Reply to  Diablo Flaco

I thought Zeta was the end of the Greek alphabet. Hence, on to “Eggbeater.”

Brian Shotwell
Brian Shotwell
29 days ago

How about that Fern of ’71!?!?! What a track!

Kevin
29 days ago

Could Zeta have been catastrophic, if not sapped by Saharan dust? In the hours before landfall, it grew enough to close off the center and thus rapidly intensified.

WxManWannaBe
WxManWannaBe
29 days ago

Thank You Dr.; but for that pending MJO pulse headed into the Atlantic Basin in November, we might have expected a few less potential storms this coming month; have to see what Central America or the Continental US spits out in November (from CA based convection to a US based trof/frontal remnant) in terms of a viable pre-existing disturbance that might take advantage of the SSTs, La Nina, and the MJO pulse as you note. In terms of the current Code Orange for the Caribbean, I am actually surprised to see such a robust lowrider wave, regardless of development issues downstream, entering the Caribbean this late in the year out of the Atlantic ITCZ.

Kevin Warwick
Kevin Warwick
29 days ago

Zeta caused more outages than Isaias? I thought Isaias was in the 5 million range. Could be wrong though!

Dennis Stansell
Dennis Stansell
29 days ago

Thanks for the news about Zeta. Very little to no coverage of storm in national media.

Bruce Wright
Bruce Wright
29 days ago

Unfortunately I had to come in to work this afternoon in Barbados. Driving through the floodwaters of the “disorganized heavy thunderstorms” of the last two days, I wondered whether my car would flood but the whole line of cars were going through so I did as well and survived. Rain still falling, it will be a slow drive home tonight.

J.W. Engblom
J.W. Engblom
30 days ago

Please note that Bayou La Batre is in AL, NOT LA 🙂

greiner3
greiner3
29 days ago
Reply to  J.W. Engblom

Must’ve looked in the mirror.