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Hurricane Zeta upgraded to Category 3 in post-season report

In a post-season report by the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Zeta has been upgraded from...
In a post-season report by the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Zeta has been upgraded from a Category 2 to a Category 3.(National Hurricane Center)
Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 1:26 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Hurricane Zeta caused over $4 billion in damage last October when it made landfall in parts of Louisiana and South Mississippi. Now, in a post-season report by the National Hurricane Center, the storm has been upgraded from a Category 2 to a Category 3.

The report released Monday bumped Zeta’s max intensity up from 109 mph to 115 mph at landfall, with the most intense winds being recorded with a radar in Golden Meadow, La.

In Mississippi, the strongest sustained wind report recorded was from Gulfport where a WeatherFlow station measured a sustained wind of 74 knots - or 85.2 mph - with wind gusts to 88 knots, or 101.3 mph. However, it is estimated that Category 2 strength winds were experienced in some locations west of there.

However, the NWS said it’s important to note that the Category 3 winds were limited to a very small area near where Zeta’s eye wall made landfall, near Cocodrie, La.

“However, these Category 3 sustained winds were likely experienced over only a very small area at and near the coast near the landfall location, and this change in the estimated landfall intensity is of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm there,” states the report.

Category 2 winds are between 96-110 mph; Category 3 winds are 111-129 mph. Wind damage increases exponentially when the winds increase. Meteorologist Eric Jeansonne explains how the wind damage increases and where the winds were the highest in his blog. Click here to read it.

This estimate is based on radar data and data collected around the time of landfall from dropsonde, which is the weather instruments dropped from Hurricane Hunter aircraft. This estimate is also based on various assumptions and educated guesses between observed data points.

Zeta was a late-season hurricane that made landfall on Oct. 24-29, 2020, first on the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 hurricane. After weakening to a tropical storm, Zeta rapidly intensified into a Category 3 hurricane just before landfall in southeastern Louisiana.

Radar and reconnaissance data indicate that Zeta made landfall near Cocodrie, La. at around 11 p.m. Oct. 28, 2020, with an intensity of 100 knots, or 115 mph. The hurricane’s eye moved directly over New Orleans a couple of hours after landfall, with the center crossing into South Mississippi that night. The storm then moved across southwestern Alabama early the next day, bringing strong winds well inland.

In all, the hurricane caused five direct fatalities and about $4.4 billion in damage in the United States.

The worst damage from Zeta in Mississippi was in the coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson, which were affected by sustained hurricane-force winds. Many snapped trees, downed power lines and power poles were reported across those counties, and up to 10,000 homes were damaged from the wind or flying debris.

The most extreme damage appears to be in Harrison County, where one person died from the storm surge and numerous homes suffered moderate-to-major damage. Similar damage was also reported at several homes in Jackson County.

The storm surge flooding caused hundreds of roads to become impassable in the Bay St. Louis area, and portions of U.S. Highway 90 were underwater in Harrison County. Farther north, Stone, George, Perry, Greene and Wayne Counties all reported significant-to-widespread tree and power line damage.

Several hundred homes were damaged in those counties, primarily due to the wind and/or trees. A couple of hundred homes had severe damage and a few dozen were destroyed, with falling trees again the primary cause.

Generally, minor damage was reported in other areas of South Mississippi. About 40 roads were blocked from falling trees in Forrest County, and a tree fell onto a home near Rawl Springs, which temporarily trapped the occupants. Scattered trees and power lines were blown down across Lamar County, with any significant damage occurring south of U.S. Highway 98, and one tree fell through a house just south of Purvis.

Minor tree damage was reported across Pearl River, Walthall, Pike, Marion, Jones, Clarke and Lauderdale Counties, with the most significant in Pearl River County.

Over 200,000 customers lost power during Zeta across the state, and about $635 million of damage was estimated by NCEI.

To read the full post-season report from the National Hurricane Center, click here.

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