In a post-season analysis released by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) this week, meteorologists have re-classified Hurricane Zeta as a Major Category 3 hurricane as it made landfall on the Louisiana coast last October.
Zeta was a late-season hurricane that made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula as a Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Category 1 hurricane. After weakening to a tropical storm, Zeta rapidly intensified into a category 3 hurricane just before landfall in southeastern Louisiana. Zeta’s fast forward motion brought strong winds well inland into
areas of the southeastern United States. Ultimately, Zeta was responsible for 5 fatalities and about
$4.4 billion in damage in the United States.
According to the post-season analysis provided by the NHC, the hurricane hunter aircraft sampling of Zeta’s eastern quadrant was incomplete leading up to landfall because of the fast-moving and rapidly intensifying nature of the hurricane, and the northeastern eyewall was onshore by the time the aircraft returned to the area. Weather RADAR in Slidell, Louisiana captured data that would normally correspond to an intensity greater than that provided by the last hurricane hunter aircraft. After reviewing that data, the NHC bumped the intensity up, bringing Zeta from a Category 2 to a Category 3 hurricane.
In addition to re-classifying the storm as a Major Hurricane, the NHC was also clear to point out this post-season tweak doesn’t change too much about the storm. “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,” wrote the NHC in their analysis. They added, “It is also important to emphasize that NHC’s intensity analysis uncertainty is about +/- 10%, and the atypical structure of Zeta’s inner core at and prior to landfall also contributed to the uncertainty in this case.”