Summary List PlacementHurricane Delta is closing in on the Louisiana and Texas coasts as a major Category 3 storm, with maximum winds of 120 mph as of 7 a.m. CDT.
After slamming into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula Wednesday morning, Delta has churned across the Gulf of Mexico, gaining strength and size along the way. The storm was moving north at 12 mph Friday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. Delta’s eye was about 160 miles south of Cameron, Louisiana, the tiny community where August’s devastating Hurricane Laura made landfall.
Delta is expected to weaken slightly before making landfall in southwestern Louisiana on Friday night. By then, forecasts show sustained winds of 110 mph, which is the upper limit for a Category 2 hurricane.
In addition to hurricane-force winds, the NHC warned of “life-threatening” storm surge along the Gulf Coast. A wall of up to 11 feet of water could rush through some parts of Louisiana, up to 4 feet of water in parts of Texas, and up to 3 feet in Mississippi and Alabama.
Delta is also set to dump up to 10 inches of rain along the coastline, with up to 15 inches in southwest and central Louisiana.
These forecasts have prompted a hurricane warning from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana. For residents in that area, “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NHC said.
A storm surge warning is also in effect from High Island, Texas, to the mouth of Louisiana’s Pearl River. That area includes Calcasieu Lake, Vermilion Bay, and Lake Borgne.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump approved an Emergency Disaster Declaration for Louisiana after a request by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Mandatory evacuations have also been issued for the parishes of Calcasieu, Jeff Davis, Cameron, Beauregard, and Allen, KPLC reported.
Lake Charles saw enormous devastation from Hurricane Laura a little more than a month ago. Mayor Nic Hunter urged residents to evacuate immediately in a video posted to Facebook Thursday. He said it was “pretty much a guarantee” that the town would feel the effects of Hurricane Delta.
“This is not a bad dream; it’s not a test run,” he said. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt.” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also declared an emergency in his state ahead of the hurricane.
Tornadoes may appear in southern Louisiana and Mississippi throughout Friday, according to the NHC.
If it continues on the forecast trajectory, Delta will be the 10th named cyclone to hit the US mainland in a single season — breaking the previous record of nine landfalls in 1916.
If that landfall is especially destructive and causes at least $1 billion in damage, 2020 will have more billion-dollar weather and climate events than any year on record in the US, according to NOAA.
Cleanup and reports of power outages in Mexico
Delta made landfall near Puerto Morelos, Mexico, around 5:30 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, striking several resort towns in the state of Quintana Roo. According to CNN, Gov. Carlos Joaquín González said cleanup efforts had already begun, amid reports of widespread power outages in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel.
“This is the one kind of visitor that we don’t like and hopefully it will leave soon,” González said, according to CNN.
Delta intensified faster than any hurricane on record
Delta first emerged as a tropical depression on Sunday evening, with wind speeds of 35 mph, before quickly growing to a hurricane with 80-mph winds by Monday evening — a process called rapid intensification.
Its maximum sustained wind speeds then reached 145 mph on Tuesday, making it a Category 4 hurricane just one day after it became a tropical storm. It hit the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday as a Category 2 storm and slowed to Category 1, but has since regained much of its strength.
“No other Atlantic hurricane has ever strengthened this much this quickly immediately after it formed,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus said on Twitter Tuesday. “We are in a climate emergency.”
Sam Lillo, a meteorologist and researcher at NOAA’s Physical Science Laboratory, confirmed Delta’s record-breaking intensification on Tuesday by analyzing the last 169 years of Atlantic cyclone data.
The latest in a devastating hurricane season
The US Gulf Coast has already experienced several destructive storms this year. Hurricane Hanna flooded streets and caused nearly 60,000 power outages in Texas in late July. Laura killed at least 17 people in Louisiana and Texas in August and caused at least $10 billion worth of damage. And Hurricane Sally killed four and caused extensive damage in Florida and Alabama in September.
So far this year, the Atlantic Ocean has produced 25 named storms in just six months. That’s just three fewer than in 2005, which had the greatest number of named storms in history. But 2020 is ahead of that record 2005 season by more than a month, so is likely to pass it.
The NHC exhausted its planned list of alphabetical names in mid-September, after Tropical Storm Wilfred formed in the eastern Atlantic. (Storm names go in alphabetical order but skip the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z.) Now, it’s onto the Greek alphabet — with Delta, it’s already four letters in. The 2005 season made it to Zeta, which is two names away.
In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that 2020’s hurricane season would be “extremely active,” with 19 to 25 named storms — the first time in the agency’s recorded history the forecast has been that high.
“This is one of the most active seasonal forecasts that NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a press release. “We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant, and being ready to take action when necessary.”
NOAA predicted there’d be seven to 11 hurricanes this season, with three to six of those reaching Category 3 or higher (that’s considered “major”). So far, 2020 has seen nine Atlantic hurricanes, three of them becoming major.
An average season sees roughly six hurricanes, with three becoming major. But the Atlantic Ocean has been producing highly active hurricane seasons since 1995, according to NOAA.
Climate change makes hurricanes more destructive
Storms are getting stronger on average as climate change causes ocean and air temperatures to climb — 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, and it closed the hottest decade ever recorded.
Hurricanes feed on warm water, and higher water temperatures also lead to sea-level rise, which increases the risk of flooding. Warmer air, meanwhile, holds more atmospheric water vapor, which helps tropical storms strengthen and unleash more precipitation.
Overall, the chances of any tropical cyclone becoming a major hurricane are increasing: Each new decade over the last 40 years had brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm will turn into a major hurricane.
“We have a significantly building body of evidence that these storms have already changed in very substantial ways, and all of them are dangerous,” James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA, told The Washington Post.
A 2013 study, meanwhile, found that for each degree the planet warmed over the previous 40 years, the proportion of Category 4 and 5 storms increased by 25% to 30%.
“Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes,” Kossin told CNN. “Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk.”
Storms are also getting more sluggish. Over the past 70 years or so, hurricanes and tropical storms have slowed about 10% on average, according to a 2018 study. That gives a hurricane more time to do damage in a given area.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Scientists say climate change can make hurricanes stronger