Delta intensified into a Category 4 storm on Tuesday and was expected to remain “extremely dangerous” by the time it reaches Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm, which is the ninth named hurricane of the season, was about 315 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, the center said. As of Tuesday morning, Delta had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour with higher gusts.
The government of Mexico had issued a hurricane warning from Tulum to Dzilam, the center said, and tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Cayman Islands, a portion of western Cuba, Isle of Youth, Punta Herrero to Tulum, and Dzilam to Progresso.
“It’s ideal conditions for rapid intensification — warm water temperatures, negligible wind chill,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. “This has turned into a very dangerous, very serious hurricane.”
The brunt of the storm will hit the Yucatán Peninsula first, he said, and that impact will likely cause the storm to weaken, possibly to a Category 3 storm. But the conditions are ideal for it to strengthen back to a Category 4 as it passes through the southern Gulf of Mexico and approaches the United States as a “major hurricane.”
Delta is expected to approach the northern Gulf Coast later this week. While the exact track of the storm remains uncertain, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, wind and rainfall along the coast from Louisiana to the western portions of the Florida Panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday.
“Folks there should make sure they have their hurricane plan in place, have their supplies and monitor the updates to the forecasts,” Mr. Feltgen said. “I know there’s a lot of hurricane weariness out there with Laura and Sally so fresh on everybody’s minds, but here we go again.”
The Hurricane Center recommended that people monitor forecasts frequently, as storms can quickly slow down, grow stronger or shift track, he said.
Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, declared a state of emergency. “As our coastal areas are still recovering from #HurricaneSally, another system, #HurricaneDelta, is making its way toward the Gulf Coast and could potentially have a significant impact on AL,” she wrote on Twitter.
But first, the storm is forecast to pass southwest of the Cayman Islands on Tuesday morning and move over the northeastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula by early Wednesday. The storm is then expected to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico by Wednesday afternoon.
It is expected to strengthen over the next 48 hours, according to the center, and produce four to six inches of rain, with some isolated amounts up to 10 inches, across portions of the northern Yucatán Peninsula through the middle of the week
This hurricane season has been one of the most active on record, experts said.
Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, last month described 2020 as “hyperactive” compared with the average hurricane season, which typically produces 12 named storms, including three that develop into major hurricanes.
In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-normal season in the Atlantic, with as many as 19 named storms, with up to 10 that could become hurricanes. And as many as six of those could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes, it forecast.
In August, government scientists updated their outlook. “It’s shaping up to be one of the most active seasons on record,” Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said at the time.
Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster with the climate prediction center of NOAA, said there could be 19 to 25 named storms by the time the season ends on Nov. 30. Of these, seven to 11 could be hurricanes, with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, including three to six major ones.