Tropical Storm Zeta was felt as a windstorm Thursday through half of Virginia, while it was mostly a rainstorm for the rest.
Richmond got some of both elements, but the worst of neither.
Most of Zeta's rain fell along and to the north of its track, which cut a line from Galax to Colonial Beach, while the highest winds and lower rain totals were found to the south.
Downed trees and outages were scattered statewide, with a concentration around Danville and Martinsville where heavy rains and high wind overlapped.
Only a handful of secondary routes around metro Richmond were affected by downed trees, according to VDOT's 511 site.
During the midafternoon, Dominion Energy reported more than 8,000 customers without power in the Richmond and Tri-Cities region. The figure dropped below 1,000 by the evening. Several thousand customers also lost power in the western portions of the state according to Appalachian Power.
Flooding issues – mainly involving high water on rural routes – were mostly confined to the western Piedmont and areas that saw 2 or more inches of rain.
Minor flooding was observed on a handful of streams and small rivers, but the short duration of rain prevented major rises.
Zeta's fast speed boosted winds, limited rainfall
Zeta's remnant rain was already clearing the Delmarva Peninsula only 24 hours after it made landfall in Louisiana and crossed right over New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane.
The duration of tropical weather lasted 6 hours or less for central Virginia, not counting the precursor rain that began late Wednesday along a front.
Interaction with an upper-level system over Texas likely helped Zeta make a last-minute intensification in the Gulf, then a breakneck forward speed of 50 mph through Virginia helped spread its gusts so far inland.
Only a handful of other tropical systems, notably 1954's Hurricane Hazel, made such a speedy trek across the commonwealth.
Zeta did what no Gulf hurricane had done in over a century of records – it directly crossed into Southwest Virginia while still designated as a tropical storm, rather than a depression or remnant.
According to the National Hurricane Center, it finally lost tropical characteristics and was designated "post-tropical" by 2 p.m. while centered between Charlottesville and Richmond.
Zeta's rain totals and wind gusts around Virginia (for the 24 hours between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Thursday)
Most areas north and west of Richmond saw at least 1 inch of rain from Zeta.
Amounts in excess of 2 inches fell in a southwest-to-northeast band between Bristol and Washington, with isolated pockets picking up more than 3 inches.
The highest preliminary total in the state was at one of the typical terrain-enhanced wet spots: 3.39 inches at Meadows of Dan in Patrick County.
Daily rainfall records were set in Lynchburg and Roanoke, with both locales in the neighborhood of 2 inches.
Richmond International Airport saw 0.83 inches by late Thursday afternoon, but a gradient was on display in the metro area. The northwestern suburbs saw 1 to 1.5 inches, while the Tri-Cities saw less than 0.5 inch of tropical downpours.
An approaching cold front threatened to add to the totals during the overnight hours.
The Norfolk area only saw a trace of rain with Zeta, despite experiencing stronger winds.
Gusts in excess of 40 mph were mostly confined to areas along and southeast of a Danville to Richmond to Northern Neck line.
The highest preliminary gust report was 57 mph at lofty Grayson Highlands State Park.
Hampton Roads had the hotspot for the eastern part of the state with 47 mph at Norfolk and Chesapeake.
Richmond International Airport peaked at 42 mph.
Cooler for Halloween weekend, calmer next week
Friday will be a breezy, clearing, cooler day of weather transition, with high pressure set to dominate the weekend forecast.
The showers lingering into Friday morning will be in the wake of a cold front and secondary low, not in association with Zeta.
Halloween came with heat and severe storms last year, but it’s looking clear and chilly this time around.
The current outlook involves lower 40s or upper 30s at daybreak on Saturday, 50s in the afternoon despite sunshine, and then 40s on a fully moonlit Halloween night.
Richmond will end up with a first freeze date in November for the seventh year in a row, with frosty lower-to-mid 30s possible by Tuesday morning.
The forecast for Election Day favors cool, sunny 50s in our region and quiet weather for almost all of the country.
There’s no reason to think the Atlantic is finished after Zeta. Hurricane season continues until Nov. 30. Conditions look favorable for more development in the Caribbean Sea in early November, sealing 2020’s place in weather record books.
The auxiliary naming list will proceed down the Greek alphabet to Eta, followed by Theta and Iota.
2020 at or near tropical records (based on NOAA archives)
Zeta was the 27th named storm of 2020 in the Atlantic. This year is now one storm away of tying 2005’s record of 28.
Zeta was the Atlantic’s 11th hurricane of 2020, which is the highest tally in a decade. Only three seasons had more: 1969 and 2010 had 12, and 2005 had a record 15 hurricanes.
Zeta was the 11th named storm to make landfall in the continental United States this season, after Bertha, Cristobal, Fay, Hanna, Isaias, Laura, Marco, Sally, Beta and Delta. Previously, 1916 and 2004 had nine strikes.
Zeta made the sixth U.S. hurricane landfall of the season, which tied 1985, 2004 and 2005 for second place. The U.S. hurricane landfall record was set in 1886 at seven.
Zeta had the latest date for a U.S. mainland hurricane landfall since 1985, when Juan hit Louisiana on Oct. 29 and Kate struck Florida on Nov. 21. Technically, Sandy had nontropical status by the time it slammed into New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012.
Zeta was the ninth storm to bring rain to some part of Virginia this season. While there aren’t official records for that statistic, 2020 outranks some noteworthy seasons 2004 (eight) and 1985 (six).
John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.