Hurricane Delta was barreling toward Mexico early Wednesday as a Category 3 storm that threatened to produce a “life-threatening” storm surge along portions of the Yucatán Peninsula, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm, the ninth named hurricane of the Atlantic season, was about 35 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, the center said in an update at 5 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. It was expected to make landfall on Wednesday morning.
As of early Wednesday morning, Delta had maximum sustained winds of nearly 115 miles per hour, with higher gusts. The storm’s intensity had fallen slightly from Tuesday night, when it was briefly upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, and forecasters expected it to weaken further as it moved over the Yucatán Peninsula later in the day.
But a “restrengthening” was expected when Delta passes through the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday night and Thursday, the center said. It also warned of a “life-threatening” storm surge of eight to 12 feet above normal levels along the Yucatán Peninsula’s eastern coast, as well as destructive waves.
Delta is expected to approach the northern Gulf Coast later this week. The governors of Alabama and Louisiana declared states of emergency on Tuesday, and several coastal areas began mandatory evacuations on Wednesday.
The government of Mexico issued a hurricane warning from Tulum to Dzilam and Cozumel, and tropical storm warnings were in effect for a portion of western Cuba, Punta Herrero to Tulum, and Dzilam to Progreso, the hurricane center said on Wednesday. Government officials have ordered nonessential businesses to close as emergency crews helped evacuate inhabitants from low-lying coastal areas to storm shelters.
“It’s ideal conditions for rapid intensification — warm water temperatures, negligible wind chill,” Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center, said. “This has turned into a very dangerous, very serious hurricane.”
Residents across the region scrambled on Tuesday to prepare for the storm’s arrival, stocking up on days’ worth of groceries, hardware materials and gasoline, and pulling boats from the water and moving them to higher ground.
Hotels along the Caribbean coast, including popular tourist destinations like Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, moved their guests to shelters.
“The most important thing is to take care of everyone’s life so that we don’t lose anybody,” said Carlos Joaquín, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, near where the hurricane was expected to make landfall early Wednesday.
Mr. Feltgen said the conditions would be ideal for the storm to strengthen back to a Category 4 as it passed through the southern Gulf of Mexico and approached the United States as a “major hurricane.”
While the exact track of the storm remains uncertain, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, wind and rainfall along the coast from Louisiana to the western portions of the Florida Panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday.
Delta is the sixth named storm to put Louisiana in its potential path; while the state largely avoided wide-scale destruction from Cristobal, Marco, Sally and Beta, each storm brought a fresh round of evacuations and fear to the area.
The process started anew this week. Orange Beach, a city on Alabama, offered sand bags to residents on Tuesday, while residents again anxiously prepared for evacuations and watched ominous weather forecasts.
About four to eight inches of rain are expected in some areas of the central Gulf Coast, with up to 12 inches in some areas, along with flash flooding, the Hurricane Center said.
“Folks there should make sure they have their hurricane plan in place, have their supplies and monitor the updates to the forecasts,” Mr. Feltgen said. “I know there’s a lot of hurricane weariness out there with Laura and Sally so fresh on everybody’s minds, but here we go again.”
The Hurricane Center recommended that people monitor forecasts frequently, as storms can quickly slow down, grow stronger or shift track, he said.
This hurricane season has been one of the most active on record, experts said.
Last month, Mr. Feltgen described 2020 as “hyperactive” compared with the average hurricane season, which typically produces 12 named storms, including three that develop into major hurricanes.
In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-normal season in the Atlantic, with as many as 19 named storms, with up to 10 that could become hurricanes. And as many as six of those could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes, it forecast.
In August, government scientists updated their outlook to include even more storms.
Kirk Semple, Concepción de León, Mike Ives and Daniel Victor contributed reporting.