Delta intensifies into Category 3 hurricane as it bounds toward Louisiana

Hurricane Hunters are monitoring this one very closely.

Delta now a Cat 3

The center of Hurricane Delta was located near latitude 24.8 North, longitude 93.4 West. Delta is moving toward the northwest near 12 mph, and this motion with a reduction in forward speed is expected this evening.

A turn toward the north is forecast to occur late tonight, followed by a north-northeastward motion Friday and Friday night. On the forecast track, the center of Delta will move over the western Gulf of Mexico this evening, over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico on Friday, and then move inland within the hurricane warning area Friday afternoon or Friday night.

Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 115 mph with higher gusts. Delta is a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Additional strengthening is possible tonight. Some weakening is possible as Delta approaches the northern Gulf coast on Friday, with rapid weakening expected after the center moves inland. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 160 miles.

Delta weakened while moving over the Yucatan peninsula, with earlier winds peaking with gusts of up to 175 mph.

Delta is a wide storm with tropical storm force winds extending out ward more than 150 miles. The “core” or “eye” is another story, with hurricane force winds extending out just 65 miles. As it moves into the Gulf the storm will grow in strength and width.

Delta’s rapid intensification has been one for the record books, you can read about how no other Atlantic hurricane has ever strengthened this much this fast after forming.

Within minutes of the National Hurricane Center upgrading Delta to a Category 3 hurricane Tuesday morning, data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicated that sustained winds had increased to 130 mph. That bumped it to a Category 4 storm.

TRACK THE TOPICS: Interactive map and storm-by-storm coverage

The center of Delta has moved off the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula and is now located over the southern Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane remains well organized in satellite imagery with a large curved band wrapping around the center and a fairly symmetric CDO.

An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft has provided a few center fixes Wednesday afternoon and evening and found that Delta’s passage over land has resulted in weakening. After emerging off the Mexican Coastline the initial wind speed was set at 75 kt, which was based on a peak flight-level wind of 81 kt. The aircraft also reported a minimum pressure of 977 mb on its final center penetration and data from the plane indicate that there has been some increase in the radius of maximum winds.

Re-strengthening is anticipated over the next 24-36 hours while Delta moves within a favorable upper-level environment and over the relatively deep warm waters of the southern and central Gulf of Mexico. Most of the intensity guidance brings Delta back up to major hurricane status, and so does the official forecast.

The global models also significantly deepen Delta during the next 36 hours, lending confidence to re-intensification. After 36 hours, increasing shear and cooler waters over the northern Gulf of Mexico are likely to cause some decrease in intensity before Delta makes landfall, however the hurricane’s wind field is forecast to expand, which will increase the storm surge and wind threats.

Regardless of Delta’s landfall intensity, life-threatening storm surge and strong winds are likely over a large portion of the northwestern and northern Gulf coast.

Delta has been moving on a consistent northwestward heading of 305 degrees at about 15 kt. Delta should continue on this general heading with some reduction in forward speed tonight and early Thursday as it approaches the western extent of the subtropical ridge.

A mid- to upper-level trough over Texas is forecast to slide eastward over the next couple of days, which is expected to cause Delta to turn north-northwestward on Thursday, and northward toward the northern Gulf coast by Friday. A faster northward to north-northeastward motion in 30-36 hours will bring the center onshore along the northern Gulf coast late Friday.

The cross track spread in the dynamical models has decreased this cycle, with the model predictions converging on the previous NHC track forecast. Therefore, little change has been made to the previous official forecast, and it lies near the center of the now tightly clustered guidance envelope.

“While there is large uncertainty in the track and intensity forecasts, there is a significant risk of dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall hazards along the coast from Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday. Residents in these areas should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and monitor updates to the forecast of Delta,” the Hurricane Center said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday signed a state of emergency for their states that would let officials seek federal aid more quickly if needed later.

Beach communities on the Alabama and Florida’s Panhandle are still clearing away the damage from Hurricane Sally, which made landfall at Gulf Shores on Sept. 16, as they warn people to be ready for Hurricane Delta.

Gov. Ron DeSantis advised residents to keep an eye on the system while expressing hope the system’s track remains west of the state.

“It’s been moving further west. And so, if that track holds, then you’d probably see modest impacts in places like Pensacola. But, as we saw just a few weeks ago with (Hurricane) Sally, there was wobbles to the east,” DeSantis said while in The Villages for a midday Tuesday news conference on coronavirus testing. “And so, just keep an eye on it. Listen to your folks on the local level and heed instructions. We think it’s going to be a really significant hurricane."

Delta is the earliest 25th named storm to form in the Atlantic, beating the old record of Nov. 15, 2005, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.