The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Zeta is packing maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and is located about 320 miles south of the Mississippi River, moving north-northwest at 17 mph. The latest advisory from the NHC notes that an Air Force “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft finds that Zeta is growing stronger.
“Life-threatening storm surge and strong winds expected along portions of northern Gulf Coast beginning around midday,” the NHC said.
Hurricane warnings are now in effect from Morgan City, La.. to the Mississippi/Alabama border, including New Orleans.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center of the storm, while tropical storm-force winds reach up to 150 miles.
Winds and heavy rain will move into the coast later Wednesday morning before the hurricane-force winds and storm surge arrive by the afternoon hours.
A “dangerous” storm surge of 5 to 9 feet is possible in areas along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts, with the tidal cycle including how high the water goes, according to the NHC.
Zeta has already been producing locally heavy rains ahead of the storm, but more downpours can be expected as the storm makes landfall. Between 2 to 4 inches of rain, with isolated amounts of up to 6 inches are possible from the central Gulf Coast through the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday.
The greatest risk of tornadoes is expected through Wednesday night over southeastern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the western Panhandle of Florida.
The system will move quickly as it interacts with another system from the West, moving along the Mississippi coast by Wednesday night and across the southeast on Thursday.
Even though Zeta will lose its tropical characteristics as it races northeastward, it will still bring very strong winds and even some snow on the backside of the storm as it arrives in the Northeast on Friday.
HURRICANE WARNING FOR NEW ORLEANS AS ZETA LASHES MEXICO’S YUCATAN PENINSULA
The storm’s expected landfall in Louisiana would be the fifth so far this busy 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. The state has been hit by two tropical storms and two hurricanes this year: Laura, blamed for at least 27 Louisiana deaths after it struck in August, and Delta, which exacerbated Laura’s damage in the same area just weeks later.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked President Trump for a disaster declaration ahead of the storm. He and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey both declared emergencies, as did Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in Biloxi, Mississippi. Trump declared an emergency for Louisiana Tuesday evening.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a lot this year, with COVID and so many threats from so many storms,” Gilich said in a news release, “but this storm shows that we haven’t seen it all yet.”
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell also issued an emergency declaration ahead of the storm, with a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside of the levee protection system in Orleans Parish.
The storm approached as New Orleans officials announced that a turbine that generates power to the city’s aging drainage pump system broke down Sunday, with no quick repair in sight. There was enough power to keep the pumps operating if needed but it left authorities with little excess power to tap should a breakdown of other turbines occur, officials said at a news conference.
A mandatory evacuation order was issued for Grand Isle, where a new levee has quickly been built after damage from earlier storms this season.
“Zeta is coming in fast,” Mayor David Camardelle told FOX8. “It’s the seventh cone and it’s right on top of us.”
Yet another approaching storm added more stress to evacuees from previous hurricanes to strike the state.
The state is sheltering about 3,600 evacuees from Laura and Delta, most in New Orleans area hotels.
“I’m physically and mentally tired,” Yolanda Lockett of Lake Charles told the Associated Press from a New Orleans hotel.
Residents in New Orleans said Tuesday they were feeling the storm fatigue but not letting their guard down.
“I’m always worried about the storm. We’ve been through a lot of them after going through Katrina,” Venetian Isles resident Ronald Dufour told FOX8. “With the water up to the roof, I’m always worried. I have very much respect for every storm that comes here in the Gulf it seems like the last seven were all pointed at us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.