In the process of reorganizing, Tropical Storm Zeta recentered itself to the south of its previous position in the western Caribbean yesterday. It’s only now beginning its move in the general direction of Cancún. The storm is forecast to be a hurricane when it arrives in that vicinity tonight.
Cancún just got hit by Hurricane Delta and had a run-in with Tropical Storm Gamma right before that. It’s been an insane year on that well-worn corridor from the Yucatán to the central Gulf Coast.
The atmospheric environment is supportive of further strengthening, and the Caribbean water is still quite warm. Zeta might get significantly stronger pretty quickly today and tomorrow, except for an interruption when it passes over the northern Yucatán. A Hurricane Warning is in effect for that area including Cancún and Cozumel.
The steering pattern is finally establishing itself. A bubble of high pressure is building over Florida and expanding into the Gulf. The high-pressure zone with its clockwise flow will suppress any leftover rain in South Florida beginning today, and provide a channel for Zeta to follow across the Yucatán and then toward the northern Gulf coast.
The exact path Zeta takes to the north appears to be related to how strong it is when it makes the turn to the north. As a general statement, it appears that a weaker storm would swing farther west in the Gulf, while a stronger storm would track farther east.
A strong mid-to-upper-atmosphere disturbance will be moving over Texas at about the time Zeta gets to the northern Gulf coast on Wednesday. The more intense the storm gets, the more the higher-atmosphere winds do the steering. So a stronger storm would turn harder right, deflected by the oncoming disturbance.
The atmospheric environment and the Gulf water temperatures are less conducive in the central and northern Gulf than to the south, so Zeta isn’t expected to continue to strengthen in the last day or so before landfall on Wednesday. In fact, it might weaken, but there is a lot of play in the intensity forecast.
Because the system is just getting organized, and the steering currents are just kicking in, the landfall point on the northern Gulf coast and the strength of the storm when it gets there have a bit more than normal uncertainty. But the consensus is that the center will come ashore between Louisiana and the western Florida Panhandle.
On the current schedule, Zeta will reach the northern Gulf coast on Wednesday, so tomorrow is preparation day. Everybody along the north-central coast needs to stay up to date on the latest forecasts because the details of the predictions are likely to be adjusted as the steering flow becomes well established.
After Zeta, a couple of cold fronts will push into Florida – one this weekend and one next week. They should introduce a taste of fall, but the winds quickly shift so they come off the ocean, so it doesn’t look like the weather will be as crisp and clear, or as long-lasting, as many people would like.
We would hope that hurricane season would wrap up after this, but that’s not guaranteed. The long-range computer models indicate that an atmospheric pattern conducive for a system to develop in the Caribbean will return around next weekend.