FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hurricane Delta strengthened as it moved across the central Gulf of Mexico and is expected to barrel ashore Friday along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Louisiana is bracing for heavy rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 11 feet, forecasters say.
Delta could briefly become a Category 3 hurricane, forecasters said, but is likely to be a Category 2 storm when it makes landfall with wind speeds around 100 mph.
In addition to storm surge and dangerous winds, Delta is expected to inundate the region with up to 10 inches of rain and isolated areas seeing as much as 15 inches in southwest and south central Louisiana.
There is potential for dangerous and prolonged flash flooding and river flooding in the region, according to the hurricane center.
Tropical-storm-force winds could arrive Thursday along with dangerous ocean swells. As of 8 a.m., Delta’s maximum-sustained winds were hovering around 100 mph, with higher gusts.
Louisiana, Mississippi and a sliver of southeast Texas remain in the forecast path. The track shifted away from Florida’s Panhandle on Tuesday night.
“The majority of (Delta’s impact) at this point looks like it’ll be in the Lake Charles area, and then a little bit into our area,” said meteorologist Tim Destri of the National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge office.
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Delta — the earliest 25th-named storm ever to form — was located about 425 miles south-southeast of Cameron, La., traveling northwest at 15 mph.
A hurricane warning is in effect east of Sabine Pass, Texas, to Morgan City, La. A storm surge warning is in effect for Sabine Pass to Ocean Springs, Miss., including Calcasieu Lake, Vermilion Bay, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Borgne.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Sabine Pass; and from east of Morgan City, La., to the mouth of the Pearl River, including New Orleans, Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain.
A tropical storm watch in effect in Mississippi from east of the mouth of the Pearl River to Bay St. Louis.
Destri said Hurricane Delta is still expected to grow in intensity and size as it churns over the warm Gulf waters.
“How much larger, it remains to be seen,” Destri said.
It also remains to be seen whether gas prices or, for those up north, heating oil prices, will be affected by Hurricane Delta. Numerous oil rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico between Texas and Louisiana and numerous refineries are in those states.
“I can only speak speculatively based on history,” said Paul Courreges, communication director for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, “and whenever you have a disruption you generally tend to see those prices rise.”
But Courreges said it’s tough to say anything for certain because the U.S. dependence on crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico has declined in recent years due to fracking, extracting oil and gas from deep underground, and increased production in Texas’ Permian Basin, located in the Odessa-Midland area.
David Dismukes, professor and executive director at LSU’s Center for Energy Studies, said 30 to 40% of U.S. oil refineries are in Delta’s projected path. But he said supply is high right now and prices are soft due to reduced demand as a result of COVID-19.
Dismukes said if oil rigs are shut down by Delta the U.S. could simply import more crude oil.
“If the refinery gets torn up you do have some more lasting impact on domestic markets,” he said.
But Courreges and Dismukes said it’s doubtful Hurricane Delta will make a big impact on gas prices.
Regardless, Delta is expected to have serious consequences. According to the National Hurricane Center, “life-threatening storm surge and damaging winds (are) increasingly likely along portions of the northern Gulf Coast beginning Friday.”
The college football game between Louisiana State University (LSU) and Missouri scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., has been moved to Columbia, Mo. The game will kickoff at noon Saturday.
Many New Orleans-area high school football games have also been moved from their usual Friday night dates to Wednesday and Thursday.
The New Orleans Saints are reportedly thinking of moving their Monday Night Football game against the Los Angeles Chargers to Indianapolis, if necessary.
The center of Delta made landfall at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday along the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, near Puerto Morelos, as Category 2 storm, according to the hurricane center.
It’s the strongest storm ever named after a letter in the Greek alphabet, eclipsing Hurricane Beta in 2005, which reached 115 mph.
Delta underwent rapid intensification Tuesday, which is defined as an increase of maximum sustained winds by at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period. In 36 hours, Delta went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane.
“Delta is the fastest storm to intensify from tropical depression to a Category 4 storm in modern records,” said Michael Ventrice, meteorological scientist for The Weather Company.
Delta beat Hurricane Keith (2000) by six hours for most rapid intensification.
The storm-weary Gulf Coast is in the cone of concern for the sixth time in the 2020 hurricane season.
Louisiana and Alabama have already declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.
Delta is a relatively small storm with hurricane-force-winds extending 35 miles from its center and tropical-storm-force winds extending 125 miles, according to Thursday’s latest advisory.
Even though an eyewall replacement cycle might prevent Delta from getting much stronger, its increase in size could increase the wind field.
“It’s probably going to be anywhere from 20 to 30% larger,” said Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist at The Weather Company, “and this typically results in an expansion of the wind field compared to what it is as a smaller hurricane and a smaller eye.”
This has been a busy hurricane season with nine named storms making landfall in the U.S., which ties the record number established in 1916. Beta became the first storm named after a letter of the Greek alphabet to make landfall in the continental U.S. when it came ashore near Port O’Connor, Texas on Sept. 21.
The Gulf Coast was hit twice in September. In addition, to Beta, Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16 near Gulf Shores, Ala.
In late August, the region was pummeled in a 72-hour period by Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco. Laura came ashore in coastal Louisiana at Category 4 strength. Marco, which had briefly been a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall as a tropical storm near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Hurricane Hanna made landfall in southern Texas in late July. And Tropical Storm Cristobal made a second landfall on the Louisiana coast on June 7.
October storms often threaten Florida as they move north and then northeastward. But none of the nine storms that hit the continental U.S. this year made landfall in Florida.
Delta broke the record for the earliest 25th named storm ever to form, eclipsing the previous mark of Nov. 15, 2005, when Tropical Storm Gamma briefly formed in the Caribbean Sea.
If Delta maintains its current forecast track, it would break a record by becoming the 10th named storm in a hurricane season to make landfall in the continental U.S. It would also be “the first-ever hurricane named after a Greek letter to strike the U.S.,” according to AccuWeather.
Delta is also chasing the record 2005 hurricane season, which had 27 named storms. In that year there were 14 named hurricanes and seven major hurricanes — three of which (Katrina, Rita and Wilma) — reached Category 5 status. On Dec. 30, 2005, Tropical Storm Zeta formed as the 28th named storm of the year, setting the all-time record.
After Delta, the next storms would be named Epsilon, Zeta and Eta.
Because 2020 is a La Niña year, forecasters expect late-season storm activity to increase in October and possibly even carry into November. Hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30.