Louisiana is once again under a hurricane warning, after Zeta left Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula on a path that could see it hit New Orleans on Wednesday night as a category 2 storm.
The 27th named storm in a very busy Atlantic season, made its Mexican landfall as a hurricane just north of the ancient Mayan city of Tulum with maximum sustained winds of 80mph. It weakened to a tropical storm but on Wednesday morning had regained strength and was roaring across the Gulf of Mexico.
Zeta broke the record for the previous earliest 27th Atlantic named storm, which formed on 29 November 2005, and became the 11th hurricane of the season. An average season sees six hurricanes and 12 named storms.
The increase in named storms can be attributed to human-induced climate change. Oceans continue to warm at a fast rate, which means hurricanes are more likely.
There have been so many storms this season that the US National Hurricane Center had to turn to the Greek alphabet after running out of assigned names.
Zeta is the furthest into the Greek alphabet the Atlantic season has gone. There was also a Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005, but that year had 28 storms as meteorologists found one they had missed, which became an “unnamed named storm”.
If Zeta makes landfall in Louisiana, it will be the fifth named storm to hit the state this year, after Cristobal, Laura, Marco and Delta.
It was expected to arrive in south-eastern Louisiana in the afternoon, according the National Hurricane Center. Zeta will move over Mississippi Wednesday evening, and then cross the south-eastern and eastern United States on Thursday.
Zeta’s approach was fraying nerves in New Orleans in Louisiana, where thousands of evacuees left homeless by the recent Hurricane Laura in August, which killed 27, are sheltered in hotels.
“It really is scary, and I don’t know what to do,” said Yolanda Lockett, who evacuated her Lake Charles apartment – now a rain-soaked, moldy mess – ahead of Laura at the end of August. “I’m physically and mentally tired,” she said, standing outside a New Orleans hotel.
Hurricane warnings went up from the central Louisiana coast to the Alabama state line. Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, declared an emergency ahead of the storm. And commercial fishermen began a familiar hurricane preparation ritual.
“We’re getting pretty good at it for doing it five times this season so far,” said Robert Campo as he readied his marina at Shell Beach for the storm. The routine includes removing gas pumps used to fuel boats, loading frozen bait on to old school buses that have been converted into mobile freezer units and tying down trash cans to keep them from floating off.
“The downfall of it is, when … we’re down for four or five days, that’s four or five days nobody’s fishing. That’s four or five days nobody is shrimping. That’s four or five days, no economic wheels are turning.”
“It’s killing our fishing, man,” Acy Cooper, a shrimper in Plaquemines Parish at Louisiana’s south-eastern tip, said. “Killing us.”
On Dauphin Island, located off the Alabama coast south of Mobile, workers at Dauphin Island Marina prepared for Zeta on Tuesday even though little remained of the business to protect after it was pummeled by Sally in September. Pilings with no decking rise from the water and a few boats that sunk during that hurricane are still on the bottom.
“Right now we’re packing stuff up just to be safe,” said marina employee Jess Dwaileebe. “We don’t have any docks or fuel pumps at this point. Sally took it all out.”
In Waveland, Mississippi, hardware store operator David Hubbard said a few people were moving boats out of the town harbor but he’d yet to see a rush of people buying storm supplies. Most people already have what they need because Zeta is only the latest threat, he said.