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Tropical Storm Zeta puts 2020 hurricane season in the record books; path includes part of Florida Panhandle

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 25, 2020

By Chris Perkins, </p><p>Steve Svekis </p><p>and Robin Webb Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – A portion of the Florida Panhandle is in the latest forecast track for Tropical Storm Zeta, the storm that put the 2020 hurricane season in the record books as only the second year in history to see 27 named storms.

Zeta formed in the pre-dawn hours Sunday, just south of western Cuba, from the former Tropical Depression 28, which emerged Saturday evening in the western Caribbean.

In rain-battered South Florida, the one-two punch of recent king tides and heavy rainfall has already caused coastal flooding woes and rough seas for boaters. Although Zeta remains hundreds of miles from the state, a moist air mass stretching northeast of the storm is drenching South Florida, National Weather Service spokesperson Pablo Santos said.

“Given recent rains, particularly across eastern sections of South Florida, the region does not need much in the way of rain to experience flooding,” Santos said.

According to the latest estimates, southern Florida and the Florida Keys could see 1 to 3 inches of rain over the next 48 hours or so, with isolated amounts up to 5 inches.

How much rain South Florida gets will depend on the system’s movement in the western Caribbean, according to Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.

At the 11 a.m. Sunday advisory, Zeta had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and was nearly stationary, 290 miles south-southeast of the western tip of Cuba.

On the forecast track, “the center of Zeta will pass south of western Cuba early Monday and move near or over the northern Yucatan Peninsula or the Yucatan Channel late Monday, move into the southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, and reach the central Gulf of Mexico by late Tuesday,” according to the latest advisory.

“A storm system over Texas early next week should steer this system north toward the central or eastern Gulf Coast. This will also increase wind shear across the Gulf of Mexico, which may prevent further strengthening of the system,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski.

Zeta’s forecast path indicates an eventual landfall between Lafayette, La., and Pensacola, Fla., with the center of the track in the vicinity of New Orleans.

The storm’s forecast has it as a tropical storm or low-end hurricane upon landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center’s advisory stated that a slow north-northwestward to northwestward motion is expected Sunday, with a turn toward the west-northwest and an increase in forward speed forecast by Monday, followed by a faster northwestward motion on Tuesday.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles, mainly southeast of the center.

Meanwhile, meteorologists said a range from 4 to 8 inches of rainfall, with isolated amounts up to 12 inches, is expected through Wednesday across parts of western Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the northeast Yucatan Peninsula.

In response, a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning is in effect for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Rio Lagartos, including Cozumel.

The Cuban government has issued a tropical storm watch for parts of western Cuba, including the province of Pinar del Rio, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The last and only other storm named Zeta was in 2005, when a system developed on Dec. 30, a month after the official end of hurricane season, and lingered into the first week of 2006.

If there is record-breaking next named storm, it would be assigned Eta from the Greek alphabet.

Here is the 2020 timeline of systems that have become at least a tropical depression:

Although both 2005 and 2020 had 27 named storms, a reanalysis of the 2005 season revealed a 28th system briefly became a subtropical storm far in the Atlantic on Oct. 4, 2005.

That system was never named but because of it, 2005 technically still holds the title of busiest hurricane season on record – for now.

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