Southwest Mississippi was placed under a tropical storm watch Monday as Hurricane Zeta, the 27th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, was barreling toward the Yucatan Peninsula before taking aim at the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where it could make landfall as soon as Wednesday.
“If you look at the track today, it is very tight and we are going to bear the brunt of this storm,” Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday. Hopefully it will decelerate and it will be significantly less strong.”
Forecasters said the storm could bring damage to porches, awnings, carports, sheds and unanchored mobile homes, as well as damage to trees, potentially bringing scattered outages.
“What I want to emphasize is to not get complacent. ... You need to make preparations, no matter what this storm will do,” Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel said Monday.
Zeta is the earliest 27th storm in the Atlantic season on record.
As of 4 p.m. Monday, it was located about 90 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, traveling between 10 mph with sustained winds of 80 mph on a path similar to Hurricane Delta nearly three weeks ago.
Zeta was expected to strengthen as it moved across the Gulf before encountering a cold front and wind shear that could weaken the system before it makes landfall as a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane.
A hurricane watch went into effect from Morgan City, La., to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and metropolitan New Orleans. A tropical storm watch also is in effect from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Okaloosa-Walton County Line in Florida, and from west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, La. A storm surge watch is in effect from Intracoastal City, La., to Navarre, Fla., including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain,Vermilion Bay, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.
The National Hurricane Center expects heavy rain Zeta to batter the Yucatan Peninsula with damaging winds for the area with a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet and 4 to 8 inches of rain.
Michel said the Gulf could expect 3 to 6 inches of rain starting tonight. The National Weather Service reported the storm has a possibility of powerful storm surge for the Gulf Coast as well as likely tornado damage.
MEMA hadn’t announced the opening of any storm shelters ahead of the storm, but Michel noted that those seeking refuge in the shelters would be offered coronavirus rapid tests.
Hurricane researcher at the University of Miami Brain McNoldy told The Associated Press Zeta that had been slow moving the past few days as it was trapped between two strong high pressure systems to its east and west.
The AP reported local authorities in the Yucatan are taking the storm seriously, readying 71 shelters for the nearly 60,000 tourists and residents reportedly in the area. It also reported that as Zeta approaches, the Mexican government was still handing out aid for Yucatan residents hit by Delta and Tropical Storm Gamma.