Weathering the Storm 2021: Hurricane Zeta

The last landfall made the biggest impact in our region
Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The 2020 hurricane season was one for the record books except for just one county in Florida. Every county from Texas to Maine was under a watch or warning for either wind or water at some point during the year and at the center of it all was Louisiana.

Storm after storm threatened the region with several near catastrophic misses, but luck eventually ran out as Hurricane Zeta came roaring ashore in late October.

As the rest of the country geared up for Halloween it was howling winds that once again threatened Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Barbara Lacen-Keller, a New Orleans East resident said, “I just said ‘Hey! We’ll get a little wind and a little rain and it’s going to be over. Never did I expect it to be the way it was. And watching it I really became afraid.”

Hurricane Zeta roared ashore at 4:00 p.m. October 28th, 2020, at Cocodrie as a major category three with winds at 115 miles per hour.

The storm caused dramatic damage in nearby Pointe Aux Chene ripping apart homes and breaking a modern era sense of comfort that big storms don’t hit Louisiana so late in the season.

Malcolm Brunet, a resident in the area, said, “It shook the house. When it came in from the south, it shook the house real bad. Then the north, it shook the house real bad.”

The staggering forward speed of 24 miles per hour may have helped. Most people dealt with the worst of the fast-moving storm for minutes rather than hours.

A resident of Lower St. Bernard Parish said, “Look it was scary, it was scary, and listen. That was only like an hour or two to think that you would stay and endure that, there ain’t no way.”

Near landfall at Golden Meadow an unofficial weather station recorded sustained winds at 87 miles per hour and a peak gust of 110 mph. While a bit taller than a standard gage, a similar reading came in from a site near the Orleans and St. Bernard Parish line. There the peak gust reached 112 miles per hour.

A Golden Meadow resident only identified as Christina said, “It’s hard when your whole life savings goes to nothing it really is.”

The fast pace may have limited storm surge. Highway One was still overtopped cutting off Port Fourchon and Grand Isle as storm tides pushed water levels to just around 3 feet. The Mississippi Coast saw the highest water levels over 9 feet in Hancock County and almost 11 feet near Ocean Springs.

The worst of Zeta moved over the most populated areas. The eyewall blasted Jefferson Parish with the center of the storm moving right across Orleans.

Golden sun rays illuminated the Superdome in the calm of Zeta’s eye.

Arguably that’s the first time the center of a hurricane passed directly over the city since 1947.

Garland Gillen covered the storm from the field regularly getting blasted by high winds. He said, “I feel like every time y’all go live to me, a massive wind gusts comes and just blows me back a little.”

That wind left nearly three quarters of a million customers without power in Louisiana and Mississippi. Some customers spent up to a week or more in the dark.

Rex Poling recalled a storm years ago that caused widespread power outages. He said, “Nothing to it, stayed for Gustav and left for five and a half days, so I’m hoping this a lot better than Gustav.”

Zeta continued up the east coast causing power outages and damage eventually totaling $4.4 billion.

The hurricane led to three deaths in the area. One from electrocution in Orleans Parish, one drowning and one traffic fatality in Mississippi.

Zeta was deemed a strong category two storm initially but upgraded to a major hurricane in post storm analysis.

It was the fourth Louisiana landfall in 2020 tying 2002 for most storms to strike in a season.

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