Hurricane Zeta gained strength and speed overnight, with forecasters saying early Wednesday that the storm is expected to make landfall in southeast Louisiana this afternoon — earlier than expected — as a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
New Orleans, just inland from the forecast landfall site, is currently in the center of the hurricane’s forecast cone and is expected to experience wind gusts of between 90 and 100 mph this afternoon.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged city residents to batten down the hatches.
“We’ve had a lot of near misses this year,” Cantrell tweeted Wednesday morning. “Pretty clear now that #Zeta will be a direct hit in #NOLA. Finish your preparations this morning. Conditions will deteriorate in the afternoon.”
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority said that bus, ferry and streetcar service would be suspended at noon Wednesday.
Zeta’s eye formed overnight and, according to the 7:00 a.m. CDT National Hurricane Center forecast, is currently 295 miles south-southwest of New Orleans, moving north at 17 mph.
The stronger winds have also raised the storm surge forecast, with up to 9 feet of coastal inundation expected when Zeta’s winds whip the Gulf of Mexico onto low-lying lands.
NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said that Zeta’s shift has put New Orleans into its forecast path.
“The fast forward speed will allow Zeta to reach New Orleans without losing much of its intensity,” Karins said.
“Wind gusts of this strength will cause extensive damage to trees, windows and roofs,” Karins said. “Tall buildings will be especially susceptible to broken windows and flying glass.”
Hurricane warnings are in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, east to the Mississippi-Alabama border, and a storm surge warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana to Navarre, Florida.
“A storm surge of this height will cause extensive flooding of low-lying areas and damage structures that have not been raised,” Karins said.
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.