Delta rapidly intensified into a major Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday, just hours after it became the ninth hurricane of the 2020 season.
The storm strengthened within 24 hours by 85 mph to a top speed of 130 mph, more than doubling the definition required for rapid intensification of 35 mph. And that strengthening showed no signs of slowing down when the sun rose on Tuesday morning. Frequent lightning near the center of the storm and the formation of a pinhole eye just 4 nautical miles in diameter were two scary signs that Delta continued to rapidly strengthen.
As of 8:00 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory that Delta was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. It was 180 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and moving west-northwest at 17 mph.
Delta was forecast to maintain this intensity or possibly strengthen more into early Wednesday as it tracks through the warm waters of the northwestern Caribbean Sea. The storm is expected to make landfall at 4 a.m. ET Wednesday in Cancún and reach the Gulf Coast late Friday or early Saturday as a potentially major hurricane.
A hurricane warning was up for parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, a tropical storm warning was up for parts of the Cayman Islands and a portion of Cuba, and a tropical storm watch was up for other portions of Cuba.
On Tuesday, Delta is forecast to bring torrential rainfall, hurricane-force winds and dangerous storm surge to the Cayman Islands, western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula. Late Tuesday or early Wednesday, it is forecast to make its first landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 hurricane.
This could be a catastrophic blow on the Yucatan Peninsula, compounded by the recent deluge from Tropical Storm Gamma. It is likely to be the strongest hurricane to hit the Yucatan in 15 years, since Wilma in 2005.
As Mexican authorities began ferrying tourists and residents from the region to shelters on Tuesday, Joseph Potts, a deputy sheriff visiting from Colorado, watched his 3-year-old son in a kiddie pool while his wife attended an emergency meeting on the hurricane at their hotel in Cancún, according to the Associated Press.
“The hurricane kind of popped up overnight and we just want to get it over with and go back to the beach,” Potts told the AP.
Lizeth Elena Garza Hernandez, 35, who arrived in Cancún Sunday with her husband, two daughters and in-laws, rushed out of her room when an alarm at their hotel blared, the AP reported.
“I’m scared because we don’t know how it could impact here, because we’ve never been in a situation like it,” she told the AP.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Delta is forecast to maintain major hurricane status as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico. Portions of the Gulf Coast could start feeling the effects of Delta by Thursday night.
On Friday, heavy rain and wind hazards will be increasing through the day along the Gulf Coast as Delta approaches. While it is still too early to pinpoint the exact landfall location, effects will extend away from the center so all interests along the northern Gulf Coast from eastern Texas to the western Florida Panhandle should make preparations now.
An extremely dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 6 to 9 feet above normal tide levels along the coast of the Yucatan peninsula within the hurricane warning area.
Delta is expected to produce 4 to 6 inches of rain, isolated totals of 10 inches, across portions of the northern Yucatan Peninsula through midweek. This rainfall could result in areas of significant flash flooding.
Over the next couple of days, heavy rain is also expected across portions of the Cayman Islands and western Cuba which could result in areas of flash flooding and mudslides.
Later this week, Delta is expected to bring heavy rainfall to portions of the central Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley and southeastern United States with 5 to 10 inches is forecast at this time.
In anticipation of the hurricane, governors in Louisiana and Alabama declared states of emergency. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the move will help the state make a pre-landfall disaster declaration with FEMA, according to NBC affiliate WSFA in Montgomery.
“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. “We are keeping a close eye on this approaching storm and we will continue providing all necessary updates.”
Delta will continue to rewrite the history books by adding to the already record-shattering hyperactive 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
At 130 mph, Delta became the strongest Greek named hurricane on record, breaking the previous record of 115 mph Beta in 2005.
When it makes landfall later this week, it will be the 10th landfall on the mainland U.S. this season.
Minyvonne Burke, Tim Stelloh, The Associated Press and Bill Karins contributed.