WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tropical Storm Zeta formed on Sunday with its sights set on hurricane strength and the beleaguered Gulf Coast.
The National Hurricane Center expects Zeta to reach weak Category 1 status in the warm belly of the Gulf of Mexico by late Monday before coming ashore somewhere between Florida’s western Panhandle and western Louisiana later in the week.
Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season and the earliest forming on record. The previous record for earliest 27th named storm was Nov. 29, 2005, according to Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach.
As of 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, Zeta was 260 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and 270 miles south-southeast of the western tip of Cuba with 60 mph sustained winds. The storm was moving at 2 mph after being mostly stationary all day.
“Strengthening is forecast, and Zeta is expected to become a hurricane before it moves near or over the Yucatan Peninsula late Monday,” the Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. advisory.
The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning for the Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Rio Lagartos, including Cozumel, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
This is only the second time a storm has carried the name Zeta – the sixth letter in the Greek alphabet – after 2020 exhausted its regular list of storm names. The first cyclone to bear the name Zeta was in the hyper-active 2005 season with a tropical storm that formed in late December and lasted into early January 2006.
2020 is tied for 3rd most hurricanes to date, 10, with many famous years including 1933, 1969, 1995, 2010, 2012, 2017. If new intensity forecast is right and we get #Hurricane #Zeta on Tue, we’ll be tied with only 1950 for 2nd most hurricanes to date. Rare tropical air! pic.twitter.com/1qbDnxNysp
— Dr. Rick Knabb (@DrRickKnabb) October 25, 2020
Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC, said Zeta will start moving on a northwestward track soon and reach the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in about 48 hours. It should be in the Gulf of Mexico by about Tuesday.
“Thereafter, however, the models diverge fairly significantly due to the uncertainty in the evolution of the next steering mechanism — a trough over the northwestern U.S. that will dig southward and phase up/merge (with) a trough off the Southern California and Baja California coasts,” Stewart wrote in a 5 a.m. forecast.
Stewart said Zeta’s stationary status for much of Sunday, combined with the unclear future steering mechanisms, make the “details of the track forecast more uncertain than usual.”
Cooler waters near the Gulf Coast and an increase in wind shear could allow for some weakening before Zeta makes landfall.
But the NHC cautions that strong tropical storms can still produce significant storm surge, rainfall, and wind impacts.
Follow reporter Kimberly Miller on Twitter: @Kmillerweather
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Tropical Storm Zeta forms, could soon be hurricane in Gulf of Mexico