Zeta was first hurricane to hit Pearl River County in October

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 31, 2020

By Skip Rigney

Zeta became the first hurricane to ever move directly through Pearl River County during the month of October when the storm roared through on Wednesday evening.

It was also one of the quickest moving hurricanes to affect our region as it raced north-northeastward at 25 miles per hour through New Orleans, Slidell, and then Pearl River County. Skirting south and east of Hattiesburg, Zeta exited Mississippi into Alabama around 11 p.m. between Waynesboro and Meridian.

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Rotating counterclockwise around the relatively calm eye of every hurricane is a ring of the strongest winds and heavy rain known as the eyewall. The northern edge of Zeta’s eyewall began crossing into southern Pearl River County at about 6:45 p.m. Wednesday as seen in radar imagery from the National Weather Service in Slidell.

At my house near Salem in southeastern Pearl River County, the 35 minutes between 6:50 and 7:25 were the height of the storm as the 20 mile wide northern eyewall passed over us.

We sat on our back porch, our house protecting us from the easterly winds. Amazingly, the electricity stayed on, and, through the heavy rain, a neighbor’s security lights illuminated the trees bending (and in a couple of cases cracking).

Between 7:25 and 7:30 p.m., the winds rapidly decreased and the rain became light as we emerged into Zeta’s eye. By 7:45 p.m., the rain had stopped and winds were dead calm.

After over a half hour in the eye, the winds began to pick up again. However, by that time the backside of Zeta’s eyewall had collapsed, not an uncommon occurrence when hurricanes move inland. At my house, there was very little rain, and only a few strong gusts on Zeta’s southside.

The official weather station at the Picayune airport lost power before the worst winds arrived. Twenty-five miles southeast of Picayune, the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club on the shore of Bay St. Louis recorded a peak sustained wind (the average wind speed over one minute) of 80 mph and a gust of 104 mph at 7:18 p.m. in the eastern eyewall.

The airport in Slidell, which went through a portion of the northern eyewall just left of the center’s track, recorded a peak sustained wind of 41 mph and a gust to 68 mph.

Usually the strongest winds are to the right of the hurricane center’s track. Radar data indicate that was the case for Zeta with areas in our county roughly east of I-59 experiencing stronger winds than those to the west.

Rainfall totals across the county for Tuesday and Wednesday ranged from four to seven inches with most of the rain falling in just a couple of hours in Zeta’s core.

A cold front moved through a few hours after Zeta, ushering in a cool, fair-weather high pressure system. Increasing northerly winds on Sunday will signal the arrival of even stronger high pressure followed by the coolest air so far this fall.

Lows Monday night will flirt with the upper 30s, which would make it our coldest night since April 16th.

Hopefully, the dominance of high pressure over the Gulf and southeastern United States this week will block any northward movement of yet another tropical disturbance already brewing over the Carribean Sea.