The governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Zeta headed for the Gulf Coast in the state on Tuesday, which has already been battered by storm after storm during the prolific hurricane season of this year.
Zeta threatens to cause a potentially fatal storm surge along parts of the northern Gulf Coast by Wednesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was expected to gain strength as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico.
“It‘s easy to let our guard down at the end of the hurricane season, but that would be a huge mistake,” Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement Monday.
Zeta was demoted from a Category 1 hurricane, but it was expected to become a hurricane again later on Tuesday.
“We expect it to be close to hurricane strength when it hits the coast,” said Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Winds are expected to reach at least 120 km / h by the time the storm makes landfall.
A hurricane warning remained in effect Tuesday morning for Morgan City, Louisiana, on the Mississippi-Alabama border, including the metropolis of New Orleans. Meteorologists have predicted up to six inches of rain in those areas and to the north.
If the forecast holds, Zeta will continue a pattern that occurred this year in which much of the storm damage does not come from wind but water.
Dr Pasch said the storm was expected to move faster than previous storms, but the storm surge could reach up to six feet or “maybe even more.” The storm surge alert stretches from the central Louisiana coast to the Florida Panhandle, he said.
The hurricane center also warned that a few tornadoes were possible Wednesday over southeastern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle.
Zeta is the 27th named storm in an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season, approaching the record set in 2005, when 28 storms became strong enough to have names.
Of the 27 storms named so far this year, only four were major hurricanes, classified as Category 3 or higher. (In 2005 there were seven major hurricanes, also a record.) Seventeen of the storms in 2020, with winds below 73 miles per hour, never exceeded the strength of tropical storms, but heavy rains accompanied many of them. Tropical Storm Bertha at the start of the season brought 14 inches of rain to parts of South Florida in late May.
The destructive effects of Hurricanes Laura and Delta were felt severely in Lake Charles, a working-class town of about 78,000 people.
Hurricane Laura made landfall on August 27 in Cameron Parish, south of Lake Charles, as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph. More than two dozen people have died in its aftermath. The trees were shredded and the inhabitants had to cover the destroyed roofs with blue tarpaulins.
Then, earlier this month, Hurricane Delta hit the coast as a Category 2 storm within 20 miles of where Laura made landfall. Delta triggered floods that besieged neighborhoods and heavy rains that inundated homes with already damaged roofs. Thousands of people remained displaced.
“I’m begging,” Mayor Nic Hunter told NPR. “I ask Americans not to forget Lake Charles.”
Rick Rojas and Henry Fountain contributed reporting.