Hurricane Delta has rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane as it head towards Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula. Get the latest from Dr. Ryan Truchelut of WeatherTiger on this major hurricane threat to the central Gulf Coast. This Facebook Live video was recorded on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.
Pensacola News Journal
Hurricane Delta uncorked one of the fiercest rapid intensification cycles in Atlantic hurricane history between mid-day Monday and Tuesday evening, and is now poised to cause catastrophic damage in the Yucatan peninsula. The threat of a major or near-major hurricane landfall is rising for the central Gulf Coast.
The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory for Delta finds sustained winds of 145 mph, or a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. This is the fastest recorded leap from tropical depression to Category 4 status in Atlantic hurricane climatology, taking just 36 hours for sustained winds to increase by 105 mph. This is also just shy of the all-time rapid intensification record, held by Hurricane Wilma’s scorching 120 mph of strengthening in 36 hours in October 205.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Delta has leveled off in intensity a bit. However, given extreme ocean heat content values, low shear, and abundant moisture in the western Caribbean, Delta could begin intensifying again prior to reaching the Mexican coast near Cancun and Cozumel overnight into Wednesday. There is a chance that Delta reaches Category 5 intensity prior to crossing land. Whether it makes landfall as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, expect catastrophic damage for the areas that experience Delta’s tiny, fifteen-mile-wide eyewall.
Pensacola plans: ‘Be prepared – and pray’: Officials urge residents not to be caught off guard by Delta
Advisory motion is west-northwest at 17 mph. Delta is rounding the base of mid-level high pressure just east of Florida, and will continue west-northwest across the Yucatan peninsula on Wednesday before slowing and turning more northward on Thursday as it comes to the western edge of the ridge. A trough moving east across Texas will turn Delta north-northeast on Friday towards the central Gulf Coast and accelerate it inland across the Deep South on Saturday.
Overall, the steering regime is similar to the one ahead of Hurricane Laura. This is good news for Florida and bad news for Louisiana.
Today’s NHC track forecast and model guidance remain tightly clustered on an eventual landfall somewhere in Louisiana. Despite whiffing on Delta’s rapid intensification, there has not been too much of a change to the forecast track since yesterday due to stability in the expected steering currents. The flow pattern does not change much between Friday and Saturday, so while there is some model spread in when Delta will make landfall based on how fast it moves, there is increased confidence today it will be somewhere in Louisiana.
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Nevertheless, everywhere from far eastern Texas to Alabama remains a potential landfall point. Risks are diminishing in the western Florida Panhandle, though Pensacola and Destin still are likely to see possible coastal flooding from the long southerly fetch and squally weather in outer bands. Stay alert, but unless there is a dramatic and unexpected shift in the forecast in the next 24 hours, the Panhandle is highly unlikely to see the worst of Delta.
How bad will the worst of Delta be on the Gulf Coast?
Intensity forecasting of small hurricanes is always tough, and typical errors are sizeable at three- or four-day lead times. In the short term, Delta will spend some time over the Yucatan peninsula on Wednesday, though the land there is mostly swampy and flat. As such, look for Delta to likely retain major hurricane status in its transit; conditions in the southern half of the Gulf are favorable for re-strengthening into Thursday, and Delta may regain low-end Category 4 status per some of the better-performing intensity models.
On Friday, Delta will move over lukewarm water temperatures of around 80 degrees on final approach to Louisiana, as shear increases to 20 knots or more. As the hurricane will be moving at 15 to 20 mph at landfall late Friday or early Saturday, look for the marginal environment to shave one or two categories off Delta’s Thursday intensity. Given that Delta will probably be a Category 3 or 4 hurricane on Thursday, landfall between Category 1 and Category 3 strength is a reasonable general expectation.
This means Delta has a chance of being the second Category 3 or higher hurricane landfall of the year for Louisiana, a dubious distinction only shared by Katrina and Rita in 2005. Given the threat, all of Louisiana as well as the rest of the central Gulf Coast should begin preparations for a major hurricane strike immediately. Delta is small now but likely to expand crossing the Gulf, and damaging winds and surge are expected to spread over a large area near and east of the center’s track.
In closing, Delta has already shown itself to have major moves as it navigates the Caribbean. We’re all sick of the endless hurricane cavalcade of 2020, but don’t let crisis fatigue stop you from preparing for a serious threat to Louisiana and vicinity. Keep watching the skies.
Dr. Ryan Truchelut is chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger, a Tallahassee start-up providing advanced weather and climate analytics, forensic meteorology and expert witness consulting, and agricultural and hurricane forecasting subscription services. For more information, visit us at weathertiger.com or get in touch at [email protected]
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