At least three fatalities have been attributed to Zeta — a 55-year-old man in Louisiana was electrocuted by fallen power lines; a man in Georgia was crushed by a falling tree; and a person in Biloxi, Miss., drowned.
New Orleans and Atlanta, where hundreds of thousands of customers were without power, were the two big cities most severely affected by the storm.
As of 2 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, PowerOutage.us reported the following number of customers in the dark by state (rounded to the nearest thousand):
- Louisiana: 471,000
- Mississippi: 208,000
- Alabama: 478,000
- Georgia: 724,000
- South Carolina: 161,000
- North Carolina: 449,000
- Virginia: 47,000
Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia saw some improvement by early afternoon Thursday, but other states, including Virginia, were continuing to see their outages grow.
Zeta was labeled post-tropical Thursday afternoon, after retaining tropical characteristics until moving into Virginia. Tropical storm warnings were still in effect across southwest Virginia and the Carolina Piedmont, while flood watches extend all the way to the New Jersey shore. Widespread rain totals of two to three inches are expected from Zeta’s remnants as they soak the Mid-Atlantic, all while unleashing strong to damaging winds in the southern Appalachians.
Flood warnings were issued for the Washington-to-Baltimore corridor, as well as into east-central Virginia. The nation’s capital had picked up 1.5 inches of rain through 1 p.m. Baltimore had 1.76 inches. Rainfall was tapering down by midafternoon, however, with the center of post-tropical Zeta set to move offshore by early evening.
When it first slammed ashore in southeast Louisiana as a high-end Category 2 hurricane Wednesday afternoon, Zeta was tied as the most powerful hurricane to strike the Lower 48 this late in the year, the most recent in a hurricane season that simply won’t quit.
At 2 p.m., the center of post-tropical Zeta was located 25 miles south-southeast of Charlottesville, yet almost all of its heavy precipitation was displaced well to the north. Maximum winds were listed as being near 50 mph despite its transition — signifying no change in impacts despite a technical reclassification. Just 18 or so hours prior, it had been roaring through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
A wind gust to 110 mph was clocked Wednesday in Golden Meadow, La., while a WeatherFlow anemometer reported a gust to 112 mph at Bayou Bienvenue, La., less than 15 miles east of downtown New Orleans. The city proper likely saw a gust of between 80 and 90 mph, but the airport wound up with a gust up to 71 mph. New Orleans itself was inside the eye of Zeta for a bit more than an hour, winds going eerily calm minutes after the fury concluded.
The storm toppled more than 100 trees in New Orleans and cut power to more than 80 percent of its customers.
The strongest winds were found east of the center, where the rotational velocity of the hurricane was compounded by the storm’s swift forward motion. That’s why a slug of 90 to 100 mph winds was observed east of the eye, such as the 96 mph gust that hit Gulfport, Miss., while regions west of the eye gusted between 65 and 80 mph.
The onshore flow to the right of the eyewall also contributed to a significant surge, with just under a nine-foot spike in water levels in Waveland, Miss. Coastal inundation made numerous roads on the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana impassible during the height of the storm, while debris was seen floating down streets in Venice, La.
Those strong winds continued into Alabama and even northwest Georgia overnight. Communication issues at the National Weather Service in Birmingham forced the office to defer to its sister office in Huntsville for backup. A 62 mph gust hit Alexander City in the east-central part of the state, while Selma reported a 61 mph gust.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport gusted to 51 mph at 6:19 a.m., but the Appalachian foothills in northwest Georgia experienced stronger winds. Nearly 1 million customers lost power in the Peach State, about 20 percent of customers statewide. North Georgia, including Atlanta, was hit hardest by outages. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported early voting was postponed in at least 16 Georgia counties Thursday because of the storm.
Severe wind gusts next accompanied the passage of Zeta’s core in the high terrain of the Carolina Piedmont, where an 80 mph gust was clocked north of Greenville, S.C. A gust of 82 mph occurred in Cashiers, in southwestern North Carolina.
As Zeta’s remnant eyewall moved into southwest Virginia, south of Roanoke, midmorning Thursday, the National Weather Service in Blacksburg issued a severe thunderstorm warning, stating that the “very dangerous storm” could produce 80 mph gusts. Doppler radar showed winds as high as 104 mph at 3,200-feet altitude, though only about two-thirds to three-quarters of that momentum was likely to “mix” down to the ground.
Part of the story behind Zeta’s ferocious windstorm has been its interaction with the jet stream, with strong mid-level winds bringing a second life to the storm as it transitions into a mid-latitude cyclone. After traveling nearly 1,300 miles in 24 hours, it will zip off the Delmarva coastline and morph into a powerful nor’easter-type storm Friday.
By Sunday, the then-decaying system could buffet parts of the United Kingdom with gusts of 40 to 50 mph.
In the meantime, hurricane season isn’t done yet. The start of November into the middle of the month appears favorable for continued storminess in the Atlantic, with a nearer-term threat materializing in the western Caribbean over the next few days. The National Hurricane Center indicates this system is favored to develop.
If that does occur, which it probably will, broader atmospheric circulations and patterns would once again place the Yucatán Peninsula, Cuba and perhaps the Gulf of Mexico in the zone that should watch the system closely. And if it, or any other storms, were to get a name, it would be Eta — and tie the 2005 record for the most named storms recorded in an Atlantic hurricane season.
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.