Delta’s windspeeds tripled, growing from a tropical depression with winds of 35 mph Monday morning to a Category 4 storm, with winds of 145 mph in about 30 hours. Maximum sustained winds increased by 85 mph in 24 hours, the most in one day so far this year.
The storm weakened slightly, with winds dropping to 120 mph, early Wednesday morning ahead of an anticipated landfall between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. CT. It is expected to bringing life-threatening storm surge and extreme winds as it hits the Yucatan, where Cancun and Cozumel are located. The area has been mostly spared by Atlantic storms this season.
“Rapid intensification” is defined as an increase in top winds by 35 mph in 24 hours — which Delta more than doubled.
The storm is expected to remain at a Category 3 when it hits Mexico before weakening over land. But once past the Yucatan peninsula, it will hit the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters says that will allow Delta to strengthen again to a Category 3 as it approaches the US Gulf Coast.
States along the Gulf of Mexico are preparing for Delta with governors in Alabama and Louisiana issuing emergency declarations and evacuations underway in states still recovering from storms earlier in the season.
Six hurricanes have hit within 50 miles of Cancun in the past 100 years, with only two of them above Category 3. Hurricane Gilbert hit in 1988 with 160 mph winds and Hurricane Wilma decimated the area in 2005 with winds of 130-140 mph. Hurricane Emily also hit the peninsula in 2005.
Historic storm and season
It is the strongest Greek alphabet storm in history. The Greek alphabet is used to name storms once the entire hurricane name list is used for a given year — which has only happened twice — once in 2005 and again this season in 2020.
Delta will become the 10th named storm to make landfall in the US this season, setting the record for the most in one year. The season is currently tied with 1916 when nine storms made landfall. It will be the fifth hurricane to make landfall, joining Hanna, Isaias, Laura and Sally. This will be the most storms the US has seen since 2005.
It will be the fourth named storm to make landfall in Louisiana if it hits, which would be the most storms the state has seen ever.
US states preparing
“Hurricane Delta is an incredibly dangerous storm that will bring heavy winds, rain and life threatening flooding and storm surge to coastal Louisiana. Everyone in South Louisiana should pay close attention to the weather in the coming days and heed the advice and directions of their local officials,” Edwards said in the release. “All of Louisiana’s coast is in the tracking cone, and we are well aware that impacts can be felt outside of the track.”
Ben Schott, the head of the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said during a Tuesday briefing that Delta will be a major hurricane and that its effects, including life-threatening storm surge, widespread damaging winds and flash flooding and river flooding related to heavy rainfall, will be significant.
Schott said that because Delta is moving very quickly, the heavy rainfall may be a little more limited but that the threat of a heavy band of rainfall is something that will need to be watched.
The earliest the storm will hit is Friday morning, he said, but if the storm slows, it could be as late as Saturday morning. The whole coastline of Louisiana could see tropical storm winds, Schott said.
New Orleans officials said they would continue monitoring the path of Hurricane Delta “minute by minute” to determine whether evacuations were needed.
“Tomorrow morning we will be waiting and looking and aggressively having to make decisions relative to any evacuations,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a press conference Tuesday.
A mandatory evacuation for tourists at the Alabama Gulf Coast, including Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, and unincorporated areas of Ono Island and Fort Morgan, is ordered to begin Wednesday morning.
“This is for their safety and well-being, as well as for the safety and well-being of locals who are working to prepare their communities in the event Hurricane Delta tracks more easterly,” Ivey said in a statement. “Unless you are a local resident with a hurricane pass or have a pass or decal that has been issued to contractors, property management or other businesses working in response to Hurricane Sally, this mandatory evacuation notice should help us prepare for the worst, even as we hope for the best.”
“As residents along the Gulf Coast know all too well, these storms are unpredictable, and I strongly encourage everyone to take Hurricane Delta seriously,” Ivey said,
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has placed numerous resources on standby across the state in anticipation of potentially severe weather caused by Hurricane Delta, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
“As the State of Texas monitors the development of Hurricane Delta, Texans are urged to take immediate precautions to protect themselves from the impact of this storm,” Abbott said in the news release.
CNN’s Tina Burnside, Gisela Crespo, Kay Jones and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.