Hurricane Delta Rapidly Intensifies Into a Category 2; Forecast to Strike Cancún, Then U.S. Gulf Coast

Published in 6 October, 2020

At a Glance

  • Delta has rapidly intensified into a Category 2 hurricane in the western Caribbean Sea.

  • Delta is likely to become a major hurricane by the time it nears the Yucatan Peninsula.

  • Delta will then likely strike the northern U.S. Gulf Coast late this week.

  • Delta is still expected be a formidable hurricane at landfall along the Gulf Coast.

  • Interests from the upper Texas coast and Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system closely.

Hurricane Delta has rapidly intensified into a Category 2 in the Caribbean Sea and is expected to hammer Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by Wednesday. Delta continues to pose a hurricane danger to the U.S. Gulf Coast late this week, with threats of storm-surge flooding, damaging winds and heavy rainfall. Residents from the extreme upper Texas coast and Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle should be checking frequently for important forecast updates and have their hurricane plans ready to go. Happening Now The maximum sustained winds in Delta are now 110 mph, and the storm is moving to the west-northwest at 15 mph. Winds in Delta increased by 70 mph in the 24 hours ending 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday. That doubles the criteria for the rapid intensification of a tropical cyclone, which is a wind speed increase of at least 35 mph in 24 hours or less. Delta’s intensification was due to an environment of the highest ocean heat content anywhere in the tropical Atlantic basin, low wind shear and sufficiently moist air, in a region notorious for rapid intensification in October, according to Sam Lillo, a NOAA scientist based in Boulder, Colorado.

Current Alerts
A hurricane warning is in effect from Tulum to Dzilam, Mexico, including Cancún and Cozumel. Hurricane conditions are expected in this area by early Wednesday, with conditions deteriorating Tuesday.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Cayman Islands and western Cuba, where tropical storm conditions are expected Tuesday and/or Wednesday.

Forecast Timing, Intensity
Delta is expected to continue strengthening and should become a major hurricane – at least Category 3 or 4 status – before passing very near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – including Cozumel and Cancún – late Tuesday night through Wednesday.

This could be the strongest hurricane strike on Cancún in 15 years, since Wilma stalled over the northeast Yucatan Peninsula after becoming the strongest Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone on record, by pressure.

After that, forecast guidance suggests that Delta will eventually turn northward toward the U.S. Gulf Coast late in the week.

Where and when that northward turn occurs will determine what areas see the greatest potential impacts, somewhere from as far west as the upper Texas coast to Louisiana into the Florida Panhandle.

Delta is forecast to be an intense hurricane in the southern Gulf of Mexico by Wednesday. After that, Delta’s wind intensity could diminish somewhat due to increasingly unfavorable upper-level winds and cooler Gulf water as it draws closer to the U.S. by landfall on Friday.

However, despite weakening on approach to the Gulf Coast, Delta is still forecast to be a formidably strong hurricane at landfall Friday. The latest National Hurricane Center forecast calls for Delta to be a Category 2 hurricane when it nears landfall Friday night.

Forecast Impacts

The Cayman Islands will see bands of heavy rain and tropical storm conditions from Delta on Tuesday.

Peak impacts in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, including Cancún and Cozumel, are expected late Tuesday night through Wednesday. Northeast parts of the peninsula should see destructive winds, heavy rain and storm-surge flooding.

The storm surge is forecast to raise water levels by as much as 6 to 9 feet above normal high tide levels in the northeast Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico near and to the north of where the center of Delta tracks.

Widespread power outages, structural damage and tree damage will occur if the eyewall of Delta moves across the northeast Yucatan as is currently forecast.

Heavy rain will lead to flash flooding and mudslides in higher terrain of western Cuba and Mexico’s northeast Yucatan Peninsula.

U.S. Gulf Coast

It’s too early to determine specific forecast impacts from Delta on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

As mentioned earlier, Delta’s wind intensity may be diminishing as it nears landfall, but it still may be a formidably strong hurricane at landfall later Friday.

A dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and flooding rainfall will likely impact parts of the northern Gulf Coast. Those potential impacts are most likely to occur somewhere from the extreme upper Texas coast and Louisiana into the western Florida Panhandle.

Rainfall and gusty winds could increase on the northern Gulf Coast as soon as Thursday. The strongest winds and worst storm surge will likely arrive on Friday as Delta draws closer to the coast.

As with all tropical cyclones, impacts will also extend inland. Delta is expected to gain forward speed through the Southeast Friday into Saturday. Therefore, strong, possibly damaging winds could spread farther inland than what we saw with Hurricane Sally last month. This faster forward speed could also lessen Delta’s extreme rainfall potential, though locally flooding rainfall is still expected, particularly along and to the east of its path and over areas soaked from Sally’s prolific rain last month. And this heavy rainfall combined with storm surge could only worsen flooding along the northern Gulf Coast. Storm History Tropical Depression Twenty-Six formed late Sunday evening to the south of Jamaica and then strengthened into Tropical Storm Delta on Monday morning.
Delta became the ninth hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season on Monday evening. Reconnaissance aircraft measured a drop in central pressure of 18 millibars from Monday’s 2 p.m. EDT National Hurricane Center pressure estimate to when it was found to have become a hurricane about six hours later.

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