Tracking the Tropics: Cat 2 Hurricane Zeta strengthens as it gets closer to Gulf Coast landfall

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hurricane Zeta is strengthening quickly as it eyes a Wednesday evening landfall on the northern Gulf Coast of the United States.

Zeta reached Category 2 hurricane strength with 100 mph winds at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. By 3 p.m. when the National Hurricane Center issued an updated advisory, winds had increased to 105 mph.

Zeta had been a hurricane earlier in the week when it made landfall along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 storm, then weakened to a tropical storm as it made its way inland. It reached hurricane strength once again Wednesday morning as it moved over the Gulf of Mexico.

As of 3 p.m. ET, Zeta is about 85 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana and 125 miles south-southwest of New Orleans. The NHC says landfall as a Category 2 hurricane is expected by 4 or 5 p.m. ET.

Once Zeta makes landfall, it’s then forecast to move close to the Mississippi coast Wednesday evening before moving across the southeastern and eastern United States Thursday.

NHC forecasters are warning of life-threatening storm surge from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre, Florida.

“This is a life-threatening situation. Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions,” the latest advisory said.

Damaging winds are also expected along parts of the coast and well inland across parts of southeastern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Georgia, the NHC says. Those winds are forecast to reach the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia on Thursday and, according to the NHC, could be “especially severe” across the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Several watches and warnings have been issued in the United States ahead of Zeta’s arrival.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for:

  • Mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre, Florida
  • Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:

  • Morgan City, Louisiana to the Mississippi/Alabama border
  • Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and Metropolitan New Orleans

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

  • Mississippi/Alabama border to Walton/Bay County Line Florida