Zeta has strengthened to a hurricane as it continues on a track for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula resorts, and then a possible landfall on the central US Gulf Coast.
Zeta — the earliest ever 27th named storm of the Atlantic season — was centred about 105 miles south east of Cozumel island on Monday afternoon, the US National Hurricane Centre said. It had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.
The hurricane was moving north west at around 10 mph after being nearly stationary over the weekend.
Here are the latest Key Messages for #Zeta, which is expected to bring hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surge to the northern Yucatan Peninsula later today and tonight https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/ioApjFaTpN— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 26, 2020
Forecasters said Zeta was expected to move over the Yucatan Peninsula late on Monday before heading into the Gulf of Mexico and then approach the US Gulf Coast by Wednesday, though it could weaken by then.
Trees felled by Hurricane Delta barely three weeks earlier still litter parts of Cancun, stacked along roadsides and in parks. There is concern they could become projectiles when Zeta scrapes across the peninsula.
Local authorities are taking the storm seriously, but with a distinctly less alarmed tone than when Delta strengthened to a Category 4 storm off the coast.
Quintana Roo state suspended alcohol sales and Gov Carlos Joaquín Gonzalez said everyone should be off the streets by Monday afternoon.
Residents were pulling their boats from the water, but the sort of panic buying seen in the run-up to Delta was not evident.
State officials reported nearly 60,000 tourists in the state as of midweek. The state government said 71 shelters were being readied for tourists or residents who might need them.
Mr Joaquín said he hoped it would not be necessary in most cases to move guests out of their hotels.
The forecast track would have Zeta hitting Cozumel and striking the mainland just south of Playa del Carmen. Delta made landfall on October 7 between Playa del Carmen and Cancun with winds of 110 mph.
The government was still handing out aid, including sheet roofing, to Yucatan residents hit by Hurricane Delta and Tropical Storm Gamma earlier this month.
Zeta had been dawdling Sunday because it was trapped between two strong high pressure systems to the east and west, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
The hurricane centre said Zeta could bring up to eight inches of rain to Mexico, the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba, before drenching the central US Gulf Coast.
The storm could make landfall anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
Louisiana Gov John Bel Edwards urged his state’s citizens to monitor the storm, and the state activated its Crisis Action Team.
This year’s season has so many storms that the hurricane centre has turned to the Greek alphabet after running out of assigned names.