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Zeta, Earliest 27th Named Storm on Record, Could Hit Gulf Coast as a Hurricane

Zeta, Earliest 27th Named Storm on Record, Could Hit Gulf Coast as a Hurricane
Tropical Storm Zeta could be the fifth storm to hit Louisiana this season. National Hurricane Center

The extremely active 2020 hurricane season has another storm in store for the beleaguered Gulf Coast.

Tropical Storm Zeta, the earliest 27th named storm of any hurricane season, is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane Monday, NBC6 South Florida reported. It will likely remain at or near hurricane strength when it nears the U.S. Gulf Coast Wednesday, according to a 5 a.m. EDT update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

"It is unfortunate we face another tropical threat this late in a very active season," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Sunday. "We must roll up our sleeves, like we always do, and prepare for a potential impact to Louisiana."

Louisiana has been especially hard hit during the 2020 hurricane season, CNN reported. Late August's Hurricane Laura was the strongest storm to strike Louisiana since 1856. It killed at least 25 people in Louisiana and Texas and forced thousands to evacuate.

More than 8,000 of these evacuees were still living in shelters when Hurricane Delta arrived six weeks later, flooding roads, downing power lines and killing at least four people in total.

If Zeta does make landfall in Louisiana Wednesday, it will be the fifth to do so this year and it would break the record for the most named storms to hit Louisiana in one season.

The storm could also make landfall along the Florida Panhandle, which was drenched in September by Hurricane Sally, The New York Times reported.

"There's no question there's a lot of hurricane fatigue, but we're still going to have to prepare," NHC meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen told The New York Times.

Before it menaces the U.S., though, Zeta is forecast to move over or near the Yucatan Peninsula Monday. The government of Mexico's Quintana Roo state is preparing 71 shelters for residents and tourists, NBC6 South Florida reported. The government is still providing aid to people in the Yucatan who were impacted by Hurricane Delta and Tropical Storm Gamma.

2020 is in the running to dethrone 2005 as the most active hurricane season on record. The 2005 season had 28 named storms — 27 that were named as they occurred and one that was discovered after the fact and became an "unnamed named storm," Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach told NBC6 South Florida.

The climate crisis is making hurricanes wetter and more intense. Scientists are not sure how it will impact the total number of storm systems, but the most destructive ones are likely to become more frequent. Hurricanes and tropical storms are fueled in part by warm water, and almost all of the tropical Atlantic Basin has seen higher temperatures than normal this season.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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