The U.S. Gulf Coast is preparing for yet more calamitous weather, as Hurricane Zeta is expected to make landfall over southeastern Louisiana sometime Wednesday afternoon. The governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have each declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm.
Zeta strengthened overnight and has sustained winds at near 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The forecasters say “some additional strengthening is possible in the next few hours,” bringing it close to Category 2 wind speeds.
The NHC projects “life-threatening storm surge” and winds capable of significant damage.
Officials in New Orleans, which hasn’t been hit hard by the season’s earlier storms, were preparing for a strong storm. “I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” the city’s emergency preparedness director, Collin Arnold, told CNN.
“Complete any preparation ASAP!” the National Weather Service of New Orleans tweeted. “Conditions will continue to worsen throughout the day!”
The NHC’s Wednesday morning advisory painted a grim picture of the potential storm surge in the worst-hit areas, especially if the peak surge occurs during high tide. In Alabama, areas from the mouth of the Pearl River to Dauphin Island could see water levels rise between 6 and 9 feet. In Louisiana, areas from Port Fourchon to the mouth of the Mississippi River could see a surge of 5 to 8 feet.
“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the right of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves,” NHC forecaster Richard Pasch said.
Conditions were deteriorating Wednesday morning along portions of the Gulf Coast, as Hurricane Zeta was moving north at 18 miles per hour. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles from the center, and tropical-storm force winds could be felt up to 150 miles away, the NHC said.
Officials warn that Zeta’s high winds could uproot trees and power lines, damage structures, and lead to flying debris. “Wind gusts can be especially severe across the southern Appalachian Mountains on Thursday,” Pasch said.
A few tornadoes are also expected Wednesday afternoon and evening in some areas over southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Panhandle of Florida.
Emergency resources are standing by across the Gulf states. Now, there’s not much left to do but wait. Perhaps Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves summed up the general sentiment of government officials with his morning message on Twitter: “Stay sharp, stay safe, and pray for God’s protection.”