Hurricane Delta was barreling toward Mexico early Wednesday as a Category 3 storm that threatened to produce a "life-threatening” storm surge along portions of the Yucatán Peninsula, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
As of Wednesday morning , Delta had maximum sustained winds of nearly 120 miles per hour, with higher gusts. The storm's intensity had fallen slightly from Tuesday night, when it was briefly upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, and forecasters expected it to weaken further as it moved over the Yucatán Peninsula later in the day.
But a "restrengthening" was expected when Delta passed through the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday night and Thursday, the center said. It also warned of a "life-threatening" storm surge of eight to 12 feet above normal levels along the Yucatán Peninsula's eastern coast, as well as destructive waves.
In addition, the storm is expected to produce four to six inches of rain, with some isolated amounts up to 10 inches, across northern portions of the peninsula through the middle of the week, with the potential for "significant" flash flooding, the National Hurricane Center said on Wednesday.
The government of Mexico has issued a hurricane warning from Tulum to Dzilam and Cozumel, and tropical storm warnings were in effect for a portion of western Cuba, Isle of Youth, Punta Herrero to Tulum, and Dzilam to Progreso, the center said on Wednesday. Government officials have ordered nonessential businesses to close as emergency crews helped evacuate inhabitants from low-lying coastal areas to storm shelters.
"It's ideal conditions for rapid intensification — warm water temperatures, negligible wind shear," Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center, said on Tuesday. "This has turned into a very dangerous, very serious hurricane."
Residents across the region scrambled on Tuesday to prepare for the storm's arrival, stocking up on days' worth of groceries, hardware materials and gasoline, and pulling boats from the water and moving them to higher ground.
Scores of hotels along the Caribbean coast, including popular tourist destinations like Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, were moving their guests to shelters.
"The most important thing is to take care of everyone's life so that we don't lose anybody," said Carlos Joaquín, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, where the hurricane was expected to make landfall early Wednesday.
Delta is expected to approach the northern Gulf Coast later this week. Mr. Feltgen said the conditions would be ideal for it to strengthen back to a Category 4 as it passed through the southern Gulf of Mexico and approached the United States as a "major hurricane."
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.
About four to eight inches of rain are expected in some areas of the central Gulf Coast, with up to 12 inches in some areas, along with flash flooding, the Hurricane Center said.
"Folks there should make sure they have their hurricane plan in place, have their supplies and monitor the updates to the forecasts," Mr. Feltgen said. "I know there's a lot of hurricane weariness out there with Laura and Sally so fresh on everybody's minds, but here we go again."
The Hurricane Center recommended that people monitor forecasts frequently, as storms can quickly slow down, grow stronger or shift track, he said.
"As our coastal areas are still recovering from #HurricaneSally, another system, #HurricaneDelta, is making its way toward the Gulf Coast and could potentially have a significant impact on AL," Ms. Ivey wrote on Twitter.
This hurricane season has been one of the most active on record, experts said.
Last month, Mr. Feltgen 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.
Kirk Semple, Concepción de León and Mike Ives contributed reporting.
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