Hurricane Zeta takes aim at Louisiana; Governor John Bel Edwards declares emergency
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday in advance of Hurricane Zeta, which is projected to make landfall near New Orleans Wednesday.
"One thing we're fairly certain of right now is Hurricane Zeta will make landfall in southeastern Louisiana," Edwards said.
"I'm pretty certain at this time southeastern Louisiana is definitely going to get hit by Zeta," said Ben Schott, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in New Orleans who consults Edwards on tropical cyclones. "I really don't see a lot of wiggles in its track."
Edwards warned Louisianans to prepare for the record fifth tropical cyclone to make landfall in the state this year.
"The good thing and the bad thing is we've had a lot of practice this year," Edwards said.
Louisiana took its first 2020 hit from Tropical Storm Cristobal in June followed by Hurricane Marco in August, a devastating blow from Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 and a late-round punch from Hurricane Delta Oct. 9.
The state was in the dreaded tropical cone for two more storms before Hurricane Sally moved east to strike Alabama and Tropical Storm Beta took a western turn into Texas.
Schott said there's a slim possibility Zeta could bounce slightly east, but there are conditions that make that unlikely.
"The wind field isn't going to be as big as (Hurricanes) Laura or Delta, but the core of the strongest winds have a good possibility of moving over the New Orlenas metro area," he said.
"The worst-case scenario is that Zeta makes landfall as a Category 1; the best-case as a strong tropical storm," Schott said. "Either way, it will likely carry dangerous, damaging impacts."
Schott did say cooler surface water temperatures closer to the shore and wind shear will likely prevent Zeta from strengthening on its final approach.
Zeta would be the 11th tropical cyclone to make landfall in the United States this year, the second record set this year. The previous record was nine set in 1916.
Schott blamed La Niña as a major factor in the record-breaking season.
La Niña is a natural ocean-atmospheric phenomenon marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator, the opposite of El Niño, which features warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in that region.
"La Niña can contribute to an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity by weakening the wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Basin, which enables storms to develop and intensify," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, in an agency report.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.