The governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Zeta churned its way Tuesday toward the Gulf Coast in the state, which already has been battered by storm after storm during this year’s prolific hurricane season.
Zeta threatens to bring life-threatening storm surge along portions of the northern Gulf Coast by late Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was expected to regain strength as it moved over the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s easy to let your guard down late in the hurricane season, but that would be a huge mistake,” the governor, John Bel Edwards, said in a statement Monday.
Zeta was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane but was forecast to become a hurricane again later on Tuesday.
“We do expect it will be near hurricane strength when it reaches the coast line,” said Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Winds are expected to reach at least 74 miles an hour by the time the storm makes landfall.
A hurricane warning remained in effect Tuesday morning for Morgan City, La., to the Mississippi and Alabama border, including metropolitan New Orleans. Meteorologists predicted up to six inches of rain across these areas and to the north.
If the forecasts hold, Zeta will continue a pattern that has been playing out this year in which much of the damage from storms has come not from wind but water.
Dr. Pasch said that the storm was expected to move more quickly than previous storms, but that the storm surge could reach as high as six feet or “maybe even higher.” The storm surge warning extends from the central Louisiana coast to the Florida Panhandle, he said.
The hurricane center also warned that a few tornadoes were possible Wednesday over southeastern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle.
Zeta is the 27th named storm in an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season, nearing the record set in 2005, when 28 storms grew strong enough to have names.
Of the 27 named storms so far this year, only four have been major hurricanes, rated Category 3 or higher. (In 2005 there were seven major hurricanes, also a record.) Seventeen of the storms in 2020, with winds below 73 miles per hour, never rose above tropical storm strength, but heavy rains accompanied many of them. Tropical Storm Bertha, early in the season, brought 14 inches of rain to parts of South Florida in late May.
The destructive effects of Hurricanes Laura and Delta have been felt acutely in Lake Charles, a working-class city of roughly 78,000 people.
Hurricane Laura made landfall on Aug. 27 in Cameron Parish, south of Lake Charles, as a Category 4 storm with 150 m.p.h. winds. More than two dozen people died in its aftermath. Trees were shredded and residents had to cover destroyed roofs with blue tarps.
Then, earlier this month, Hurricane Delta hit the coast as a Category 2 storm not even 20 miles away from where Laura made landfall. Delta unleashed floods that besieged neighborhoods and heavy rainfall that swamped homes with already damaged roofs. Thousands of people remained displaced.
“I am begging,” the mayor, Nic Hunter, told NPR. “I am pleading for Americans not to forget about Lake Charles.”
Rick Rojas and Henry Fountain contributed reporting.