- Forecasters said the storm will likely get stronger before moving near or over the northern Yucatan Peninsula.
- Forecasters urged residents from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle to monitor the storm’s progress.
- Zeta is the earliest named 27th Atlantic storm recorded in an already historic hurricane season.
Zeta strengthened into a hurricane Monday as it approached Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula before taking aim on the battered U.S. Gulf Coast later in the week.
A hurricane watch was issued Monday afternoon for portions of the Louisiana coast, including metro New Orleans.
The hurricane was centered about 90 miles southeast of Cozumel Island, the National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. ET advisory. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was moving northwest at about 10 mph after being nearly stationary over the weekend.
Forecasters said the storm will likely weaken slightly as it moves over the northern Yucatan Peninsula on Monday. It should restrengthen as it moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday.
A “dangerous” storm surge is expected to raise water levels by 1 to 3 feet above normal tide levels along the coast in the hurricane warning area near where the center is set to make landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning for the Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Dzilam, including Cozumel, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for south of Tulum, west of Dzilam and Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
Local authorities are taking the storm seriously, but with a distinctly less alarmed tone than when Hurricane Delta strengthened to a Category 4 storm off the coast three weeks ago.
Forecasters urged residents from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle to monitor the storm’s progress as Zeta is expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast. “There is an increasing risk of dangerous storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle,” the Hurricane Center said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards also urged his state’s citizens, who are recovering from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, to monitor the storm.
Is Zeta forming?:Area near South Florida likely to become next tropical storm
The Hurricane Center said Zeta could bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to Mexico, the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba on Tuesday before dumping 2 to 4 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, southern Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states, potentially causing flooding.
Isolated tornadoes will also be a threat in the Southeast for the second half of the week, AccuWeather said.
Zeta is the 11th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. According to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach, only two other Atlantic hurricane seasons on record have had so many hurricanes by Oct. 26: 1950 and 2005.
It is also the 27th named storm of an already historic hurricane season. This year’s season has so many storms that the hurricane center has turned to the Greek alphabet after running out of official names.
Zeta is the furthest into the Greek alphabet the Atlantic season has gone. There was also a Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005.
Contributing: The Associated Press