Delta intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on Tuesday and was expected to become an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm 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 320 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, the center said. As of Tuesday morning, Delta had maximum sustained winds of 115 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.
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.
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.