Gov. John Bel Edwards offered all-too-familiar warnings Monday about another named storm headed for the Louisiana coast in this record-setting season of 2020, but the Baton Rouge region appears to be trending again toward avoiding a coming storm's worst when Hurricane Zeta hits later this week.

Predicted storm tracks for Hurricane Zeta shifted eastward somewhat through the day Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Recent ones Monday evening had the storm crossing southern Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes and clipping Lake Borgne and the Rigolets east of New Orleans, taking Zeta's eye and more fearsome eastern side farther away from the Baton Rouge area than earlier forecasts had predicted. 

Edwards told reporters 2 to 4 inches of rain are expected, and possibly more in some areas, and that state residents need to pay attention to developments.

"The biggest threat as of now is damage for the wind," he said.

Under current projections, the Baton Rouge area can expect 1 to 2 inches of rain and winds around 20 mph, though parts of lower Livingston and Tangipahoa could seen worse impacts, the National Weather Service said. 

Bob Wagner, meteorologist in the service's Slidell office, said the eastern parts of the Baton Rouge area remain in the broader cone of uncertainty — the area of probability for the hurricane's path — and small changes in the forecast could bring much worse wind and rain.

"The current forecast track would have Baton Rouge certainly out of the worst effects, but if track shift farther west, even as much as 30 or 40 miles, it could be significantly different," Wagner said. "Baton Rouge proper's not out the woods yet, but right now it looks like the worst conditions will be east of Baton Rouge metro." 

Winds on the storm's track and east of it could be significantly stronger and rain totals higher, 2 to 6 inches with locally higher amounts.

Ascension, Assumption, Livingston, lower Tangipahoa and St. James parishes are all part of a broader hurricane watch for Zeta, while Tangipahoa is among several parishes also under a storm surge watch. Lake Pontchartrain may have surge of two to four feet. St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne declared a state of emergency on Monday and plans to have sandbag locations opened 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The governor said he also issued an emergency declaration earlier in the day — his eighth of the year — in anticipation of the storm, including orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

"The good thing and the bad thing is we have had a lot of practice this year," Edwards said, explaining the state's preparations for the latest weather threat.

With the imminent arrival of Zeta, Louisiana has been under a hurricane or tropical storm watch seven times this year, according to Wagner. 

If Zeta hits Louisiana sometime Wednesday evening as projected, it will be the 11th named storm to hit the continental United States this hurricane season. That would extend a new record set after the old record was surpassed when Hurricane Delta hit the state earlier this month.

"The old record for single-season named storm landfalls in the continental U.S. was nine landfalls set in 1916," said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science.

Hurricane Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 season, which formally ends Nov. 30. Klotzbach added that it will only take one more named storm to tie the record of 28 set in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

The potential for more severe weather was on the governor's mind Monday morning during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the formal opening of a wider stretch of Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge.

Edwards told reporters then that, while the path of Zeta was moving a little east and a little west, Louisiana residents should take note.

"We believe by Wednesday night, we will either have a tropical storm or hurricane somewhere in southeast Louisiana," he said. 

"Please don't let your guard down."

Edwards has spent much of the past few months holding press conferences before and after hurricanes, including hurricanes Laura and Delta that did heavy damage to the Lake Charles area and other parts of southwest Louisiana.

Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, left an estimated $12 billion in damages and Hurricane Delta arrived in nearby Creole six weeks later, triggering flooding and other problems for weather-weary residents.

The New Orleans area was squarely in the line of Hurricane Sally until it veered east shortly before it arrived on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Five self-service sandbag locations open 8 a.m. Tuesday for St. James Parish residents.  Sand and bags will be available; please bring a shovel.

  • Grand Point Fire Station - 32122 La. 642, Paulina.
  • Vacherie Fire Training Center - 29126 Health Unit St. Vacherie.
  • Kingview Street Fire Station - 8120 Kingview St., St. James.
  • Gramercy Water Plant - 407 E. Jefferson Hwy., Gramercy.
  • Lutcher Water Plant - 1132 Lutcher Ave., Lutcher.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

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