In-Depth: Another major hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast

Weather Blog

Hurricane Delta continues its rapid intensification today and is forecast to strike Cancún, Mexico directly tonight before making landfall later this week on the northern Gulf Coast of the United States.

Delta developed a tight, compact inner core yesterday which has allowed it to take full advantage of ideal conditions including very warm sea surface temperatures, low wind shear, and high atmospheric moisture content. These conditions will still be in place through the day today, so rapid intensification is expected to continue. In fact, special rapid intensification probability forecasts are off the chart, with a greater than 50% chance of the storm gaining another 45 mph of wind speed in the next 24 hours.

Travel plans to resort towns including Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancún should be reconsidered as a category 4 hurricane strike early Wednesday morning appears imminent. A hurricane of this magnitude is capable of shutting down airports for days on end, eliminating cell phone service, and leaving areas without power and water for weeks or months.

As Delta intensifies to category 4 status today, it will become the strongest Greek-named storm on record, besting Hurricane Beta in 2005 with 115 mile-per-hour winds (Klotzbach, CSU).

Simulated forecast satellite image of Hurricane Delta early Wednesday morning, directly over Cancún (HWRF Model/Tropical Tidbits)
Forecast wind speed and pressure early Wednesday morning (HWRF Model/Tropical Tidbits)

Though interactions with land over the Yucatan Peninsula will briefly weaken Delta, the storm will then reemerge into a favorable environment in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday and Thursday as it moves west-northwestward.

It may regain category 4 strength at that time with winds returning to 130+ miles per hour.

Simulated forecast satellite image of Hurricane Delta on Thursday over the Gulf (HWRF Model/Tropical Tidbits)

A bit of good news, however, for hurricane-weary Louisiana and other sections of the coast threatened by Delta: we do expect the storm to weaken prior to landfall.

As Delta approaches the Gulf Coast, it will begin to encounter higher vertical wind shear, attempting to tear the storm apart. Also, after multiple early-season cold fronts and cold upwelling from previous tropical storms, it will encounter cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the 24 hours prior to landfall.

This less-conducive environment is expected to take a toll on the storm, though it may still make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast Friday or Saturday as a significant category 2 or 3 storm.

Official National Hurricane Center forecast track for Hurricane Delta. Sea surface temperatures also shown, with blue = cooler than normal waters.
Simulated forecast satellite of Hurricane Delta approaching landfall on Friday (HWRF Model/Tropical Tidbits)

With Hurricane Delta’s landfall somewhere in the U.S. now a near-certainty, this would be the 10th landfalling tropical storm or hurricane of the season thus far. The U.S. has never before seen 10 landfalling tropical storms/hurricanes in one season (previous record was 9 landfalls in the year 1916).

For the latest local impacts we expect from Delta, click here.

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