Tropical Storm Zeta was expected to become a hurricane on Monday as it heads toward the eastern end of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, before a possible landfall on the central US Gulf coast in midweek.
On Sunday Zeta became the earliest ever 27th named storm of the Atlantic season.
The previous earliest 27th Atlantic named storm that formed on 29 November 2005, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said. 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, but that year had 28 storms because meteorologists later went back and found they missed one, which then became an “unnamed named storm,” Klotzbach said.
The increase in named storms can be attributed to human-induced climate change. The world’s oceans continue to warm at a fast rate, which means hurricanes are more likely.
On Monday morning, Zeta was centered about 210 miles south-east of Cozumel island, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. It had maximum sustained winds of 70mph.
The storm was moving north-west at around 9mph, after being nearly stationary over the weekend. Forecasters said Zeta was expected to move over the Yucatán peninsula before heading into the Gulf of Mexico and then approaching the US by Wednesday, though it could weaken by then.
Officials in Quintana Roo state, the location of Cancún and other resorts, said they were watching the storm. They reported nearly 60,000 tourists in the state as of midweek. The state government said 71 shelters were being readied for tourists or residents.
The government was still handing out aid, including sheet roofing, to Yucatán residents hit by Hurricane Delta and Tropical Storm Gamma earlier this month. A hurricane warning was expanded for the Yucatán peninsula from Tulum to Dzilam, including Cancún and Cozumel.
Zeta had been dawdling because it was trapped between strong high pressure systems to the east and west, and could not move north or south because nothing was moving there either, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
Klotzbach said that when a storm gets stuck, it can unload dangerous downpours over one place, causing flooding. The worst-case scenario of a stationary storm happened in 2017 over Houston with Harvey, when more than 60in of rain fell, and in 2019 over the Bahamas with Dorian, a category 5 hurricane, Klotzbach said.
The NHC said Zeta could bring 4in to 8in of rain to Mexico, the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba, before drenching the central US Gulf coast. The storm could make landfall anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
The Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, urged citizens to monitor the storm, and the state activated its Crisis Action Team.
Source: The Guardian