Storm Zeta hurricane threat to US, Mexico

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Newly-formed Tropical Storm Zeta has strengthened in the western Caribbean and will probably become a hurricane before hitting Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and the US Gulf Coast in coming days.

Zeta was the earliest named 27th Atlantic storm recorded in an already historic hurricane season.

The system was centred about 450km southeast of Cozumel island on Sunday evening, the US National Hurricane Center said.

The storm was nearly stationary, though forecasters said it was likely to shear the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula or westernmost Cuba by late Monday or early Tuesday and then close in on the US Gulf Coast by Wednesday, but could weaken by then.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 85km/h, and forecasters said Zeta was expected to intensify into a hurricane Monday.

Zeta may dawdle in the western Caribbean for another day or so, trapped between two strong high pressure systems to the east and west. It can't move north or south because nothing is moving there either

The Hurricane Center said Zeta could bring 10-20cm of rain to parts of the Caribbean and Mexico as well as Florida and the Keys before drenching parts of the central Gulf Coast by Wednesday.

Zeta is also in a dangerous place to stall. The western Caribbean is "where storms can cook" and rapidly intensify because of the deep, warm waters, like 2005's Wilma.

However, the Hurricane Center was not forecasting rapid intensification for Zeta.

Zeta broke the record of the previous earliest 27th Atlantic named storm that formed November 29, 2005.

This year's season has so many storms that the hurricane centre has turned to the Greek alphabet after running out of official names.