Updated Oct. 26 at 9:50 a.m. ET
A tropical storm stalled over the Caribbean Sea is poised to drop heavy rain on the U.S. Gulf Coast within the next few days. Forecasters say it is likely to move in a northwestward direction and strengthen into a hurricane by the time it hits the southern U.S. on Wednesday.
Beginning as a depression east of Mexico, the storm quickly strengthened and was named Tropical Storm Zeta. As of Monday morning, the storm is about 175 miles southeast of the island of Cozumel, Mexico, near Cancun. It's moving northwest at a pace of 9 miles per hour, with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour.
Mexico is already bracing for impact. A hurricane warning is in effect for Cozumel, and for the stretch of coastline from Tulum to Dzilam, including major tourism hubs on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Zeta is projected to move "near or over" the peninsula on Monday afternoon or evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters expect Zeta to make landfall Wednesday afternoon or evening in southeastern Louisiana.
As the 27th named storm of the season, Zeta gives 2020 the distinction of having the second-highest number of named storms. Only 2005 was more tempestuous, with 28 named storms.
The National Hurricane Center is predicting 4 to 8 inches of rain, with some areas seeing totals of up to 12 inches, as Zeta moves from the Yucatán Peninsula and through the Cayman Islands and Cuba.
Areas in the central Gulf Coast and Tennessee Valley are expected to get 2 to 4 inches of rain, with up to 6 inches in some isolated areas.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state is once again preparing for dangerous weather. "It is unfortunate we face another tropical threat this late in a very active season," Edwards said. "We must roll up our sleeves, like we always do, and prepare for a potential impact to Louisiana."
"A tropical threat during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency is challenging, but something we can handle," Edwards added. "If Tropical Storm Zeta does become a serious threat, we stand ready to ramp up our actions as a state to meet the needs of our people and communities."
Earlier projections had suggested that Zeta could hit deep into the Florida panhandle and potentially disrupt early voting there. The latest projections suggest the storm's path has tracked westward, reducing its impact in Florida and increasing the effect on Louisiana.
NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.