Delta is forecast to get even stronger, catapulting to a Category 3 in 24 hours as it passes close to the Yucatán Peninsula. Then it is predicted to lumber through the Gulf of Mexico, coming ashore between coastal Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle late Thursday into Friday as a Category 2.
Assuming Delta maintains hurricane strength through landfall, it will become the fourth to hit the Gulf Coast in 2020, behind Hanna, Laura and Sally. In addition, the Gulf Coast was also affected by two tropical storms: Marco and Beta.
Tropical-storm-force winds and rain could reach the northern Gulf Coast as early as Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
“While there is large uncertainty in the track and intensity forecasts, there is an increasing risk of dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall hazards along the coast from Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday,” the Hurricane Center wrote.
New Orleans, which has been sideswiped by several gulf storms this year but avoided a direct hit, is threatened yet again. Whether Delta affects the area more seriously than previous storms will depend on its ultimate course, which is still coming into focus.
Delta became the earliest 25th named Atlantic storm observed to date, forming more than a month ahead of the previous record holder of the same name on Nov. 15, 2005. It is the ninth hurricane of the 2020 season. “Only 3 other years in the satellite era (since 1966) have produced 9 or more Atlantic hurricanes by October 5: 1995, 2004, and 2005,” tweeted Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.
The latest on Delta
As of 8 p.m. Monday, Delta was quickly gaining strength about 150 miles south of Jamaica. Maximum sustained winds had increased to 75 mph, a 35 mph leap from 8 a.m. when it was designated a tropical storm. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Cayman Islands, and there was a hurricane warning for western Cuba and the northern Yucatán Peninsula.
The storm was headed west-northwest at 8 mph.
On Monday afternoon, the Hurricane Center wrote that the storm was quickly becoming better organized as thunderstorms wrapped around its center. Hostile high-altitude winds, which had slowed the system’s development over the weekend, had abated.
Over the next two days, the Hurricane Center’s forecast calls for “significant strengthening” due to favorable environmental conditions as the system passes through the northern Caribbean and enters the gulf Tuesday night. In the northwest Caribbean, it is passing over water of about 87 degrees, about three degrees above average, fueling its rapid intensification — a hallmark of five other 2020 storms (Hanna, Laura, Teddy, Sally and Gamma).
The tendency for storms to gain strength so quickly may be increasing because of human-caused climate change.
The Hurricane Center predicts Delta will become a major Category 3 hurricane by Tuesday night with maximum sustained winds of at least 120 mph.
The Hurricane Center predicts a surge, or storm-driven rise in water above normally dry land, of up to four to seven feet along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and two to four feet along western Cuba’s south-facing coast. Three to six inches of rain, with locally up to eight inches, is forecast for western Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the northern Yucatán Peninsula.
As the storm approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Thursday, cooler ocean waters between 75 and 80 degrees, dry air and increasing upper-level winds may weaken it some. Whereas several of the previous landfalling gulf storms this year strengthened on approach to the coast, this is less likely to occur with Delta.
However, hurricane intensity forecasts are low-confidence this far in advance, and if Delta picks up speed as it collides with the coast, it may not have much time to weaken.
The Hurricane Center wrote that Delta poses “a significant wind and storm surge threat” to a portion of the northern Gulf Coast.
Track forecasts for Delta generally bring the storm ashore in Louisiana from Thursday into Friday. However, some shifts in these predictions are likely. Areas farther east, including those in coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle that were ravaged by Hurricane Sally, could well be affected by Delta. In addition, areas in western Louisiana, devastated by Hurricane Laura, also might get brushed by the storm.
The current track forecast would bring serious storm impacts to New Orleans, including strong winds, heavy rain and flash flooding, and a substantial surge in coastal areas.
The National Weather Service office serving New Orleans wrote that if the current forecast remains unchanged, “this storm would obviously bring significant impacts to the local area.” But it qualified that assessment: “It is too soon to speculate what the exact magnitude of any local impacts will be and which areas are at greatest risk.”
Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Gamma, which made landfall along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on Saturday, has emerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico but is poorly organized. It is forecast to weaken over the next several days while meandering over the Bay of Campeche before drifting back over the western coast of the Yucatán later this week and dissipating. It is not expected to substantially interact with or influence Delta.