Wednesday morning update
Zeta is once again a strengthening hurricane as it closes in on the Louisiana coast.
Landfall is expected by this evening, and the storm's remnant rain is still on track to soak much of Virginia on Thursday.
Showers will begin to spread into the southwestern corner of the state later today along a front, but central and eastern sections will be largely dry until early Thursday.
The heaviest rain will roll through from southwest to northeast between daybreak Thursday and the late evening, with some lighter rain lingering into the first half of Friday.
Areas north and west of Richmond are still looking at totals in excess of 2 inches, which could cause excess runoff for creeks and low-lying and poorly-drained areas.
Totals look relatively lighter south and east of Richmond where the rain is more likely to come in intermittent bursts on Thursday.
But winds will pick up in the afternoon and evening, especially across the southern tier of the state, which could cause problems for trees and power lines.
The severe weather outlook is still subject to change, and an isolated tornado or two can't be ruled out in areas that warm well into the 70s ahead of the downpours.
Breezy conditions will continue into Thursday night as the heavy rain clears out and winds shift behind a cold front.
Tuesday evening update
Virginia's mountains stand to see the most rain out of Hurricane Zeta's leftovers on Thursday.
Metro Richmond may see less overall and a low risk of flash flooding, but we could have to deal with some strong or severe wind gusts during the afternoon or evening.
The details will come down to how Zeta gets absorbed into another, larger system rolling across the south-central United States.
A critical factor will be how warm the air gets on Thursday, which comes down to the position of a front. Areas south of it could heat well into the 70s, making for a more volatile atmosphere. That could take the strong winds aloft and spread them to ground-level during any downpours.
Poorly-drained or leaf-clogged spots could see standing water after Thursday's rains, and some creeks and low-lying spots near the Blue Ridge Mountains could be at risk of flash flooding depending on the rainfall rates. But major flooding is not expected in metro Richmond or for the James River.
On Tuesday, Zeta weakened to a tropical storm after crossing Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. A day earlier it had strengthened to an 80-mph hurricane over the western Caribbean. The forecast still shows it making landfall in southeastern Louisiana as a hurricane on Wednesday afternoon or evening.
Cooler late week, calmer next week
Friday will be a breezy, clearing, cooler day of weather transition, with high pressure set to dominate the weekend forecast.
Halloween came with heat and severe storms last year, but it’s looking clear and chilly this time around.
The current outlook involves lower 40s or upper 30s at daybreak on Saturday, 50s in the afternoon despite sunshine, and then 40s on a fully moonlit Halloween night.
Unless that forecast cools down by several degrees, Richmond will end up with a first freeze date in November for the seventh year in a row.
The weekend weather should cooperate with outdoor plans, though Thursday’s rain and Friday’s breezes might blow western Virginia’s fall colors past their prime.
An early peek at the forecast for Election Day favors quiet and seasonable weather for our region and for much of the country.
The trends for the first week of November feature near to somewhat above-average temperatures but below-normal rainfall here.
There’s no reason to think the Atlantic is finished after Zeta. Hurricane season continues until Nov. 30. Conditions look favorable for more development in the Caribbean Sea in early November, sealing 2020’s place in weather record books.
The auxiliary naming list will proceed down the Greek alphabet to Eta, followed by Theta and Iota.
NOAA archives: 2020 at or near tropical records
- Zeta is the 27th named storm of 2020 in the Atlantic. It’s now one storm away of tying 2005’s record of 28.
- Zeta is the Atlantic’s 11th hurricane of 2020, which is the highest tally in a decade. Only three seasons had more: 1969 and 2010 had 12, and 2005 had a record 15 hurricanes.
- Zeta is on track to be the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental United States this season, after Bertha, Cristobal, Fay, Hanna, Isaias, Laura, Marco, Sally, Beta and Delta. Previously, 1916 and 2004 had nine strikes.
- If Zeta strikes the U.S. as a hurricane, it will be the sixth of the season to do so and tie 1985, 2004 and 2005 for second place. The U.S. hurricane landfall record was set in 1886 at seven.
- Zeta could have the latest date for a U.S. mainland hurricane landfall since 1985, when Juan hit Louisiana on Oct. 29 and Kate struck Florida on Nov. 21. Technically, Sandy had nontropical status by the time it slammed into New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012.
- Zeta will be the ninth storm to bring rain to some part of Virginia this season. While there aren’t official records for that statistic, 2020 outranks some noteworthy seasons 2004 (eight) and 1985 (six).