Satellite image
Infrared satellite image of Tropical Storm Zeta at 11:40 a.m. CDT Tuesday, October 27, 2020. (Image credit: NOAA)

Hurricane warnings are up for portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as Tropical Storm Zeta reorganizes over the Gulf of Mexico after a Monday night landfall as a category 1 hurricane in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Zeta is expected to re-intensify into a category 1 hurricane and make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday afternoon or evening.

Hurricane Zeta made landfall near Tulum, Mexico at 11 p.m. CDT Monday night, October 26, 2020, 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. A personal weather station in Chemex, located about 50 miles inland from the landfall location, recorded 5.15 inches of rain in the 12 hours ending at 11 a.m. CDT Tuesday.

Zeta is the third Greek-named storm to make landfall in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula this month. Tropical Storm Gamma made landfall within 10 miles of Zeta’s landfall location on October 3 with 70 mph winds; Hurricane Delta hit Cancun on October 7 as a category 2 storm with 110 mph winds.

Zeta re-organizing over the Gulf of Mexico

After spending approximately nine hours over land, Zeta emerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico late Tuesday morning. At 10 a.m. CDT Tuesday, Zeta had sustained winds of 65 mph and a central pressure of 985 mb, and was headed northwest at 14 mph. The storm was spreading heavy rains over western Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Zeta was a medium-sized storm, with tropical storm-force winds that extended out 140 miles from the center.

Satellite images early Tuesday afternoon showed that Zeta remained well-organized, with an area of intense thunderstorms near its core, and a large spiral band wrapping into the north side of the center.

Figure 1. Track forecasts from the major hurricane tracking models as of 7 a.m. CDT Tuesday, October 27, 2020. The models were in excellent agreement on a southeastern Louisiana landfall on Wednesday. Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

Track forecast for Zeta

A ridge of high pressure to the northeast will keep Zeta on a northwesterly track at a speed near 15 mph through Tuesday afternoon, carrying Zeta into the central Gulf of Mexico. By Tuesday night, an approaching trough of low pressure over the central U.S. is expected to turn Zeta more to the north and then north-northeast, with a landfall expected along the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday afternoon or evening.

The models are in excellent agreement on the track of Zeta. As Zeta will be curving to the northeast at the time of landfall, the center may emerge over water for a few hours after its initial landfall in southeastern Louisiana, and make a second landfall on the coast of Mississippi or Alabama.

If Zeta makes landfall in hurricane-beleaguered Louisiana, it will be the record-breaking fifth landfall in a single season by a named storm in the state: Earlier this year, category 2 Hurricane Delta, Tropical Storm Cristobal, Tropical Storm Marco, and category 4 Hurricane Laura all hit the state. The current record for most landfalls in a single season in Louisiana is four, which 2020 shares with 2002, when Tropical Storm Bertha, Tropical Storm Hanna, Tropical Storm Isidore, and Hurricane Lili all hit the state.

Figure 2. Predicted wind speed (colors) and sea level pressure (black lines) for Zeta at 7 p.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, from the 6Z Tuesday, October 27, run of the HWRF model. The model predicted that Zeta would make landfall in southeastern Louisiana as a category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds, passing directly over New Orleans. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

Intensity forecast for Zeta

Zeta will have favorable conditions for intensification up until Wednesday morning, with light wind shear of 5-10 knots, ocean temperatures of 28-29 degrees Celsius (82-84°F), and a moist atmosphere with a mid-level relative humidity of 60-65%. Zeta will be passing over Gulf of Mexico waters with a modest heat content capable of supporting rapid intensification, but not highly so. However, for it to develop in these conditions, Zeta needs to fully reorganize after being disrupted by passage over the Yucatan Peninsula.

The 12Z Tuesday run of the SHIPS model gave modest odds that Zeta would undergo rapid intensification by Wednesday morning: a 20% chance of becoming a category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds (two times higher than the climatological odds), and a 12% chance of becoming a category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds (five times higher than the climatological odds). In the Tuesday morning run of the European model ensemble forecast, about 10% of members predicted that Zeta would intensify into a category 3 hurricane.

Figure 3. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico on October 25 were quite cool near the central U.S. Gulf Coast, about 26 degrees Celsius (79°F), but were a very warm 28-29 degrees Celsius (82-84°F) in the southern Gulf of Mexico. (Image credit: NOAA)

On Wednesday, when Zeta will be approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast, the storm will encounter more hostile conditions for intensification. Waters beneath the storm will be significantly cooler, wind shear will rise, and dry air over the Gulf could wrap into its core. However, a strong band of upper-level winds to the north of Zeta will provide a more efficient upper-level outflow channel as the storm approaches the coast, helping to counteract the increased shear. The official National Hurricane Center forecast calls for Zeta to make landfall as a category 1 hurricane with 80 mph winds, and a reasonable uncertainty range for Delta’s winds at landfall is 60-110 mph (strong tropical storm to category 2 hurricane strength).

Zeta will be moving rapidly at landfall in the U.S., with a forward speed over 25 mph. This will limit the amount of rainfall. The current NHC forecast calls for two to four inches of rain in the U.S., with isolated amounts of up to six inches – an unusually low amount of rainfall for a landfalling category 1 hurricane.

Also see: How to prepare for a hurricane

The rapid forward speed will also mean that there will be a much larger disparity than usual between the wind impacts on the storm’s right side versus the left side; the HWRF and GFS models are predicting that at landfall, Zeta’s winds will be 15 – 20 mph stronger to the east of the center, compared to the west of the center. Since Zeta will be curving to the northeast at the time of landfall, the storm’s strongest winds will affect a wide swath of coast, from southeastern Louisiana to Alabama. Wind damage is likely to be the greatest threat from Zeta.

Zeta was the 11th Atlantic hurricane of 2020

Zeta is the 11th Atlantic hurricane so far in 2020. According to Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, only two other Atlantic seasons on record (since 1851) have had 11 or more hurricanes by October 27: 1950 and 2005. Seven full Atlantic hurricane seasons have had 11 or more hurricanes: 1887, 1933, 1950, 1969, 1995, 2005 and 2010. The record is 15 hurricanes, set in 2005.

With five weeks still to go in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, there have been 27 named storms, 11 hurricanes, four intense hurricanes, and an accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index of 140 (45% above average for the date). The averages for this point in the season are 10.9 named storms, 5.6 hurricanes, 2.5 intense hurricanes, and an ACE index of 96.

Zeta intensified by 30 mph in a 24-hour period ending at 4 pm CDT October 26, from 50 mph winds to 80 mph. That intensification falls short of the official NHC criteria for rapid intensification – a 35 mph increase in winds in 24 hours. (However, it is quite possible that in post-season analysis, Zeta will meet the definition of rapid intensification, because of the timing of the Hurricane Hunter report that triggered Zeta’s upgrade to hurricane status.)

Figure 4. Predicted wave height (colors) and directions the waves and swells are traveling (black arrows) for the North Atlantic at 7 p.m. CDT Wednesday, October 28, from the 1 a.m. Tuesday, October 27, run of NOAA’s WaveWatch 3 model. The model predicted that Ex-Epsilon would be generating a large area of massive waves in excess of 48 feet to the west of Ireland, and that Zeta would be generating waves of up to 20 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

Ex-Hurricane Epsilon bringing huge waves to Europe

Hurricane Epsilon brushed Newfoundland, Canada, on Sunday morning as a category 1 storm with 75 mph winds, before merging with a trough of low pressure and transforming to a powerful extratropical storm on Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, Ex-Epsilon was a near hurricane-force storm with sustained winds of 65-70 mph and a 940 mb central pressure south of Iceland. The storm was producing a large area of massive waves exceeding 48 feet, as analyzed by NOAA’s WaveWatch 3 model. These waves were affecting much of the far northern Atlantic Ocean, and rank among the biggest in recent memory, according to the surfing website magicseaweed.com.

Figure 5. Forecast for Typhoon Molave from 10 a.m. CDT Tuesday, October 27, from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Vietnam braces for category 3 Typhoon Molave

Louisiana and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have competition for the 2020 honors for worst tropical cyclone season: Vietnam. Vietnam has ordered massive evacuations in advance of the arrival of Typhoon Molave, a category 3 storm with 120 mph winds at 10 a.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Molave is expected to make landfall near 8 p.m. CDT Tuesday on the central Vietnam coast as a category 2 typhoon. According to NOAA’s typhoon database, only eight category 3 or stronger typhoons have hit Vietnam in recorded history.

Earlier this month, torrential rains from Tropical Storm Linfa killed 90 people and left 34 missing in Vietnam, causing at least $518 million in damage, according to Steve Bowen of Aon. Tropical Depression Saudel caused additional flooding and damage in Vietnam on October 25, as did Tropical Storm Nangka on October 16, Tropical Storm Sinlaku on August 2, and Tropical Storm Noul on September 18.

Vietnam may yet experience another tropical cyclone next week. The GFS and European models are predicting that Tropical Storm Goni will form over the Philippine Sea late this week, and make landfalls in the Philippines on Saturday and in Vietnam on Monday.

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Posted on October 27, 2020 (2:16pm EDT).

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...

51 replies on “Zeta expected to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast Wednesday”

  1. doesnt matter the Category..for Any Hurricane you prepare, board up, get supplies etc..only takes one tornado thrown off by the approaching Hurricane to change your life huh..then add to that the hurricane winds etc..any hurricane is dangerous in my book

  2. Panhandle folks read this……………………..TCPAT3

    BULLETIN
    Hurricane Zeta Advisory Number 15
    NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL282020
    400 AM CDT Wed Oct 28 2020

    …AIR FORCE HURRICANE HUNTER AIRCRAFT REPORTS THAT ZETA IS
    STRENGTHENING…
    …LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE AND STRONG WINDS EXPECTED ALONG
    PORTIONS OF THE NORTHERN GULF COAST BEGINNING AROUND MIDDAY…

    SUMMARY OF 400 AM CDT…0900 UTC…INFORMATION
    ———————————————-
    LOCATION…25.1N 91.8W
    ABOUT 320 MI…520 KM SSW OF THE MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
    ABOUT 355 MI…570 KM SSW OF NEW ORLEANS LOUISIANA
    MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS…85 MPH…140 KM/H
    PRESENT MOVEMENT…NNW OR 345 DEGREES AT 17 MPH…28 KM/H
    MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE…982 MB…29.00 INCHES

    WATCHES AND WARNINGS
    ——————–
    CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

    The Tropical Storm Warning along the coast of the Florida panhandle
    has been extended eastward to the Walton/Bay County Line.

    SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

    A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for…
    * Mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre Florida
    * Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay

    A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
    * Morgan City Louisiana to the Mississippi/Alabama border
    * Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Metropolitan New Orleans

    A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for…
    * Mississippi/Alabama border to Walton/Bay County Line Florida

    A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for…
    * West of Morgan City to Intracoastal City Louisiana

  3. BULLETIN
    Hurricane Zeta Intermediate Advisory Number 14A
    NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL282020
    100 AM CDT Wed Oct 28 2020

    …ZETA RE-STRENGTHENS INTO A HURRICANE…
    …FORECAST TO BRING A LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE AND STRONG
    WINDS, STARTING IN SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA BY MIDDAY WEDNESDAY…

    SUMMARY OF 100 AM CDT…0600 UTC…INFORMATION
    ———————————————-
    LOCATION…24.3N 91.5W
    ABOUT 365 MI…585 KM SSW OF THE MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
    ABOUT 410 MI…660 KM S OF NEW ORLEANS LOUISIANA
    MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS…75 MPH…120 KM/H
    PRESENT MOVEMENT…NW OR 325 DEGREES AT 15 MPH…24 KM/H
    MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE…988 MB…29.18 INCHES

    WATCHES AND WARNINGS
    ——————–
    CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

    None

  4. After 7 times surviving the “Cone of Uncertainty” in New Orleans this season, it feels strangely calming to only be worrying about an impending hurricane, instead of the never ending anxiety over the upcoming election, LOL. This time, I appreciate the distraction of hurricane prep. At least I don’t have to worry about the entire country right now.

    1. I have family in NOLA and SW Louisiana. By 2020 standards, a Cat 1 hurricane doesn’t seem like a big deal.

  5. It’s unusual to see a single spiral band effect the entire Gulf coast. Smaller storms seem to have more freedom to rapidly intensify, but this one is tough to gauge as this spiral band seems so anomalous…can this storm spin up to a high cat 2?

      1. 4 AM from NHC:

        “It is somewhat surprising* that the plane did not report stronger winds during its northeast eyewall pass given the improved satellite presentation, and using a blend of the aircraft data and recent objective and subjective satellite estimates yields an initial intensity of 75 kt.

        *I feel you

  6. Molave was making landfall in this advisory

    Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #37 – 9:00 AM JST October 28 2020
    TYPHOON MOLAVE (T2018)
    =============================================
    South China Sea

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Typhoon Molave (955 hPa) located at 14.5N 109.8E has 10 minute sustained winds of 80 knots with gusts of 115 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 17 knots.

    Storm Force Winds
    ================
    90 nm from the center in eastern quadrant
    60 nm from the center in western quadrant

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

    Dvorak Intensity: T5.0-

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    12 HRS: 15.4N 107.0E – 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) over land Laos
    24 HRS: 15.6N 104.7E – Tropical Depression over land Thailand

    ——————————————————————————————

    Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #5 – 9:00 AM JST October 28 2020
    TROPICAL DEPRESSION 22
    =============================================
    West Northwest of Northern Marianas islands

    At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Depression (1008 hPa) located at 16.4N 140.0E has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots. The depression is reported as moving west northwest at 7 knots.

    Dvorak Intensity: T2.0-

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 15.7N 134.7E – 35 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    48 HRS: 15.2N 130.5E – 55 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    72 HRS: 13.8N 126.7E – 70 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

  7. Thanks for the Tuesday update, Dr. Masters!

    To quote you above:
    “Wind damage is likely to be the greatest threat from Zeta.”

  8. North coast of Spain preparing for massive waves with huge earth movers now building sand banks to try and prevent storm wave damage to the coasts.
    Yet another case here of an high pressure and endless sunshine, while the north coast gets eroded by a storm with its center almost 2000 miles away.
    I will try and keep an informative note on any developments and activities of this storm event over the next day or so.
    Thank you Dr Maters for the update and blog posts.

  9. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #35 – 3:00 AM JST October 28 2020
    TYPHOON MOLAVE (T2018)
    =============================================
    South China Sea

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Typhoon Molave (950 hPa) located at 13.9N 111.0E has 10 minute sustained winds of 85 knots with gusts of 120 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 10 knots.

    Storm Force Winds
    ================
    90 nm from the center in eastern quadrant
    60 nm from the center in western quadrant

    Gale Force Winds
    ===================
    240 nm from the center in northern quadrant
    210 nm from the center in southern quadrant

    Dvorak Intensity: T5.5-

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    12 HRS: 14.8N 108.4E – 70 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) over land Vietnam
    24 HRS: 15.2N 105.5E – 35 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) over land Laos
    48 HRS: 16.0N 101.0E – Tropical Depression over land Thailand

    —————————————————————————————————

    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #3 – 3:00 AM JST October 28 2020
    TROPICAL DEPRESSION 22
    =============================================
    West Northwest of Northern Marianas islands

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Depression (1006 hPa) located at 16.2N 140.7E has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots. The depression is reported as moving west northwest slowly.

    Dvorak Intensity: T1.5

    Forecast and Intensity
    =========================
    24 HRS: 15.6N 136.4E – 35 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    48 HRS: 14.8N 131.4E – 55 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Sea East of the Philippines
    72 HRS: 13.3N 126.9E – 70 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East of the Philippines

  10. An interesting fact as POV from local Cancun population…Delta was an official cat 2 (diminished from cat 3) that made landfall with 110 mi winds….so compared to Zeta (60mi winds with 79mi gusts), it was a much stronger hurricane. Despite of this fact and the physical damage evidence (mainly vegetation) after Delta, many people locally in the Cancun-Tulum corridor area perceived Zeta as worse and keep talking about it (stronger wind, noisier, more violent gusts). Could it be just a matter of perception or was it that some specific arms or bands were indeed stronger last night than 3 weeks ago?
    Thank you Dr. Masters.

    1. Having experienced hurricanes and tropical storms over 54 yrs while living on the US east coast and now southern Mexico I can tell you local topography, meso vortecies and how well your house, and neighbor’s houses, is built has a lot to do with ones personal description of the event. The met. data give the overall, objective, view.

  11. “…according to the surfing website magicseaweed.com.”

    I wonder if it’s good shite.

    2020 needs to have one more major hurricane to double every average metric (except ACE, and if that happens…).

  12. “Zeta” instead of “Delta” above in the landfall prognosis as to reasonable winds……….. 🙂

  13. Thank You Dr. for the Outstanding potential impact analysis (as usual); moving across LA
    at 25 mph will be a good thing in terms of quickly in and out for them and others downstream.

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