Zeta forecast to be a Category 1 again as warnings issued from Louisiana to Florida Panhandle

©Miami Herald

Map of Hurricane Zeta. Tribune News Service 2020 - Davis/TNS/TNS

MIAMI — Zeta weakened back into a tropical storm overnight and is forecast to re-strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by the time it approaches the northern Gulf Coast Wednesday, prompting hurricane, storm surge and tropical storm warnings from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.

A few tornadoes may also be possible Wednesday over southeastern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the western Florida Panhandle, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters expect Zeta will make landfall somewhere between Morgan City, Louisiana, and the Mississippi-Alabama border, which were placed under a hurricane warning Tuesday. Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Metropolitan New Orleans are also under a hurricane warning.

A tropical storm warning was also issued from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Okaloosa-Walton county line in Florida, and a tropical storm watch is in effect west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.

Zeta is forecast to bring hurricane and tropical-storm-force winds to the areas under hurricane and tropical storm warnings.

The storm is also forecast to bring heavy rains, between 2 to 4 inches with some isolated areas seeing up to 6 inches of rain, from eastern Louisiana, across southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Georgia through Wednesday night and through the southern Appalachians into the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday. That may result in flash, urban, small-stream and minor river flooding, according to the hurricane center.

Forecasters also issued a storm surge warning Tuesday from the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana, to Navarre, Florida, including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Vermilion Bay, Pensacola Bay, and Mobile Bay.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting water levels will rise by as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal tide levels along the immediate coast in the tropical storm warning area. Combined with the tide, the storm surge will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded, forecasters said.

The highest storm surge, between 4 and 6 feet, is expected from Port Fourchon, Louisiana to Dauphin Island, Alabama, including Lake Borgne. Forecasters said other parts of the tropical storm warning area could see between two to four feet of storm surge, including:

— From Dauphin Island, Alabama, to Navarre, Florida, including Mobile Bay and Pensacola Bay.

— Navarre, Florida to Yankeetown, Florida, including Choctawhatchee Bay and Saint Andrew Bay, which might see between 1 and 3 feet of storm surge.

As of 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Zeta was continuing to produce strong winds and heavy rainfall across the northern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and was moving toward the northwest near 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Mexico on Tuesday morning changed its hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning from Punta Allen to Progreso, including Cozumel.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to 65 mph with higher gusts, though it is forecast to restrengthen into a Category 1 hurricane again when it moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico later Tuesday, according to the hurricane center. To be a Category 1 hurricane, it needs to have a minimum of 74 mph maximum sustained winds.

Zeta is forecast to make a turn to the north Tuesday night, pick up speed and re-strengthen until it is at or near Category 1 hurricane level strength by the time it nears the northern Gulf Coast late Wednesday.

As of 5 p.m., Zeta was about 450 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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©2020 Miami Herald