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Strengthening Tropical Storm Zeta Could Be Latest Hurricane To Threaten Florida Panhandle

The northern Gulf Coast could be the target of another hurricane later this week as strengthening Tropical Storm Zeta lurks near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula before making an expected turn to the north.

Portions of the Yucatan Peninsula are under a Hurricane Warning as Zeta could make landfall there late Monday night.

As of early Monday morning, Zeta was located about 210 miles southeast of Cozumel and moving northwest at 9 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Maximum sustained winds were just shy of hurricane strength, at 70 mph with higher gusts, and Zeta could become a Category 1 hurricane later in the morning.

Forecasters say Zeta will continue moving northwest before turning toward the north on Tuesday night, and then race north-northeast on Wednesday and approach the northern Gulf Coast.

Ray Hawthorne, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, says Zeta is on track to be the eighth tropical storm or hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf coast this season.

“Landfall is most likely between Louisiana and Alabama on Wednesday as a strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane, but heavy rain, tornado, and surge impacts are expected away from the landfall location,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne said tropical storm-force winds are likely to arrive in the western Florida Panhandle late Wednesday. Storm surge, flooding, and isolated tornadoes are also possible over the Panhandle on Wednesday into Wednesday night before the storm departs for the Carolinas on Thursday.

Zeta is expected to emerge in the southern Gulf of Mexico sometime Tuesday morning, where it should regain any strength that it loses over its brief path over the Yucatan.

Water temperatures and light to moderate wind shear are forecast in the southern Gulf and should be favorable for maintaining a hurricane through at least Tuesday.

Several cold fronts have already penetrated the shelf waters of the northern Gulf this fall season, so water temperatures are a bit cooler closer to the coast.

Increasing wind shear and somewhat cooler water may lead to some weakening as Zeta approaches the northern Gulf coast later Wednesday; however, the storm is most likely to be a strong tropical storm or category 1 hurricane at landfall.

Portions of the Yucatan can expect 4-8 inches, with isolated totals of 12 inches, according to the hurricane center. South Florida and the Keys could experience 5 inches over the next two days, along with dangerous storm surge.

Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. This is only topped by 2005, which had 28 named storms.

Information from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network and NPR was used in this report.

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