Hurricane Delta roared out of Mexico and back into the Gulf on Thursday, a havoc-wreaking Category 2 storm that was gaining strength as it set its sights on the beleaguered Louisiana coast.
Thursday morning, the storm was located 400 miles south of Cameron, Louisiana, moving northwest at 14 mph with sustained winds of 105 mph.
AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said Delta was expected to grow in size and strength, likely reaching Category 3 status over the Gulf before slamming into the Louisiana coast late Friday, probably as a Category 3 storm.
A Category 3 hurricane has sustained winds of 111 to 129 mph and is considered to be a “major” hurricane.
“Delta … is expected to bring a dangerous and life-threatening storm surge, heavy flooding rainfall, damaging winds along the coast as well as isolated tornadoes from Friday into Saturday,” Kottlowski warned.
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The storm’s forward speed and the amount of wind shear – an increase in wind speed with altitude along with sudden change in wind direction – it encounters will determine its wind strength at landfall, Kottlowski said.
“Regardless of a loss in wind intensity near the core, surge and wind impacts will still be potentially devastating along and near where the hurricane makes landfall,” Kottlowski said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that President Donald Trump has approved the state’s request for a federal emergency declaration in advance of the storm.
“All who live in south Louisiana should be preparing for Hurricane Delta and plan to be in place by Thursday evening as we prepare to weather yet another strong hurricane,” Edwards said.
Southwestern Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm that pounded the area in August. Thousands of Laura evacuees remain in hotels around the state.
Delta’s heavy rainfall, winds and isolated tornado threat will expand into Mississippi and part of Alabama late Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service said Delta could produce 3 to 6 inches of rain, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches, in western Mississippi.
“We are tracking this closely and operators are getting ready for action,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said on Twitter. “Prep for the worst. Pray for the best. God bless and stay safe.”
In Mexico, civil defense official Luís Alberto Vázquez said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but Hurricane Delta damaged home and buildings and knocked out electricity to parts of Cancun and Cozumel. Officials said about 39,000 people had been evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, and that about 2,700 people had taken refuge in storm shelters in the two states.
Delta continued the record-breaking theme of the current hurricane season, becoming the earliest storm to be named Delta. The Greek alphabet is tapped for names after the predetermined 21 names have been used. The previous record-holding Delta storm formed on Nov. 15, 2005.
Delta would be the 10th named storm to hit the U.S. in a single season, also an all-time record. This year has tied 1916 for nine tropical systems that made landfall in the U.S., AccuWeather said.
Contributing: Amber Roberson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger; The Associated Press