October 6, 2020

Extremely Powerful Hurricane Delta Could Hit The Gulf Coast As A Major Hurricane On Friday


Hurricane Delta grew into an extremely powerful category four hurricane on Tuesday as it took full advantage of near-perfect conditions over the western Caribbean Sea. The system is on track to make a direct hit on Cancun, potentially devastating the resort town with storm surge, destructive winds, and flooding rain. Delta will continue into the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the northern Gulf Coast as a major hurricane by Friday.
Source: NOAA

Hurricane Delta's maximum sustained winds came in at an incredible 145 MPH as of the 7:00 PM CDT advisory, representing an enormous strengthening in just a short period of time.

Environmental conditions and sea surface temperatures will allow Delta to maintain this strength—or possibly grow a little stronger still—through Thursday as long as the system can maintain its composure. The hurricane has a healthy core with plenty of cloud-to-surface lightning detected by weather satellite, which is a sign of intense thunderstorm activity in the eyewall. 

Delta is a very small hurricane right now. The system has a pinhole eye about 5 miles wide, and the eye is obscured by cirrus clouds produced by the storm's outflow. The radius of hurricane force winds only extends about 30 miles from the center of the storm. 

Hurricane Delta's small size is also the reason it doesn't look all that imposing on satellite imagery right now. Don't let its compactness and non-traditional appearance fool you—this is one powerful hurricane. 

SourceNOAA/NESDIS

It appears that Delta experienced the fastest intensification of any storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, strengthening from a tropical depression to a category four hurricane in about 30 hours.

Small storms are highly volatile. Compact hurricanes can be both impervious and susceptible to the environments around them, allowing these tiny systems to ramp up in a hurry—as we saw here with Delta—and fall apart just as quickly when they encounter some resistance, as we saw with Hurricane Danny in 2015.

It's unlikely that Hurricane Delta will encounter much resistance over the next couple of days.


The only obstacle in Delta's path right now is the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun and its surrounding communities are bracing for one of their worst hurricanes in living memory. It doesn't look like the core of the storm will stay over land very long, which will allow a stronger storm to emerge into the southern Gulf of Mexico. Conditions here will allow the storm to make one last run-up in strength and organization before it makes its final approach to the northern Gulf Coast.

The system is likely going to grow in size over the next couple of days, which will make its hazards even more of a problem for the Gulf Coast when it arrives at the end of the week. Delta will inevitably undergo eyewall replacement cycles, which serve to temporarily weaken the storm's winds and redirect its energy into growing the storm's size.

The hurricane will continue moving northwestward until it reaches the southern Gulf. A trough over the central United States will weaken a ridge of high pressure over the southeastern United States, causing the storm to turn northeast and begin tracking into the Gulf Coast. Cooler water and increased wind shear should force the storm to start weakening on Friday, but it'll be a race against time to see how much it can weaken before it runs into the coast.

Right now, forecasters expect the storm to make landfall as a major hurricane in central Louisiana at some point on Friday evening. However, a small change in the storm's track could lead to big changes in where the system will make landfall—the cone of uncertainty, the historical margin of error in previous track forecasts, stretches from Galveston to Biloxi.

That's a sensitive and scary path for a major hurricane to take for any number of reasons. 

Southwestern Louisiana is still reeling from Hurricane Laura back at the end of August. Laura was the strongest hurricane on record to strike this stretch of coastline. The storm heavily damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in the area and left remaining residents in the dark for up to a month. A storm surge nearly 20 feet deep devastated coastal communities just south and east of Lake Charles. 

The heart of Acadiana—south-central Louisiana, centered around Lafayette—is just as vulnerable to a significant storm surge as southwestern Louisiana. Calling the coastline here a "coastline" is just a formality. The whole stretch of coast from Lake Charles to the mouth of the Mississippi River is miles and miles of swamps and bayous. When a storm surge rolls over this marshy land, there's not really any actual land there to stop the surge. This can allow a major storm surge to push dozens of miles inland, affecting communities far away from the shoreline. 

Hurricane Delta will also make a much more direct approach to the coast than Hurricane Laura did. Hurricanes that approach the coast on a straight path can produce a more significant storm surge than those that hit at an angle or make landfall after a sharp turn. Delta will spend about 24 hours moving along a straight path toward the coast, giving the storm time to build up a long fetch that could exacerbate the threat of a storm surge in communities along its path. 

There's also the threat to New Orleans, which is within Hurricane Delta's cone of uncertainty. The city is infamously vulnerable to storm surge from approaching hurricanes. Even a storm that misses a direct landfall here could produce major flooding in and around the city. 

Folks on the northern Gulf Coast are running out of time to get ready for this system. Anyone along the potential path of this system—from the coast on hundreds of miles inland—needs to prepare for widespread, lengthy power outages and significant flash flooding.

If the storm makes landfall as a major hurricane, power outages will stretch very far inland and catch many folks off-guard. Go to the store on Wednesday and make sure you've got enough ready-to-eat food and water to get you through at least a week without power, along with the batteries and cell phone recharging packs to last the same amount of time.

We'll have a clearer idea of its track and resulting impacts on Wednesday.

[Satellite: NOAA]


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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