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Gulf Coast Braces As Tropical Storm Zeta Poised To Become Hurricane

Tropical Storm Zeta is poised to develop into a hurricane and make landfall in the Gulf Coast by Wednesday afternoon.
Tropical Storm Zeta is poised to develop into a hurricane and make landfall in the Gulf Coast by Wednesday afternoon.

A tropical storm stalled over the Caribbean Sea is poised to drop heavy rain on the U.S. Gulf Coast within the next few days. Forecasters say it is likely to move in a northwestward direction and strengthen into a hurricane by the time it hits the southern U.S. on Wednesday.

Beginning as a depression east of Mexico, the storm quickly strengthened and was named Tropical Storm Zeta. The storm was nearly stationary Sunday, dropping water over the open ocean and causing downpours in nearby Jamaica and Honduras, and bringing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

Mexico is already bracing for impact. The government of Mexico has issued a hurricane warning for the Yucatan Peninsula, from Tulum to Rio Lagartos.

As the 27th named storm of the season, Zeta gives 2020 the distinction of having the second-highest number of named storms. Only 2005 was more tempestuous, with 28 named storms.

Areas in Zeta's path can expect 4-8 inches of rainfall, with some areas getting as much as a foot of rain through Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday. Over the next two days, 5 inches of rain are possible across southern Florida and the Keys. Forecasters expect a dangerous storm surge, with water levels rising by up to 3 feet above normal.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state was once again preparing for dangerous weather. "It is unfortunate we face another tropical threat this late in a very active season," Edwards said. "We must roll up our sleeves, like we always do, and prepare for a potential impact to Louisiana."

"A tropical threat during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency is challenging, but something we can handle," Edwards added. "If Tropical Storm Zeta does become a serious threat, we stand ready to ramp up our actions as a state to meet the needs of our people and communities."

Coming just a week before Election Day, Zeta could have an impact on the race. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is leading the polls in Florida, but only within a few percentage points — and in recent days, President Trump has begun to close the gap there.

"Hurricane Zeta could disrupt in-person early voting in Republican areas of Florida's panhandle," writes University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who specializes in American elections.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").