MIAMI - After a near-record breaking bout of intensification, Hurricane Delta is a Category 3 storm with more strengthening to go before it crashes into the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday and on to the northern Gulf coast later this week.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm, which had 115 mph sustained winds as of the 11 a.m. update, could cross the peninsula as a powerful Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds.
Forecasters expect Delta will pick up its pace as it approaches the Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba on Tuesday, but even landfall isn't expected to slow it down for long.
"Some reduction in intensity is likely when Delta moves over land, but the environmental conditions over the southern Gulf of Mexico are expected to support re-strengthening, and the NHC intensity forecast shows a second peak in 48-72 hours," forecasters wrote.
Delta could even strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane briefly in the open waters as it continues on track toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, possibly Louisiana. The storm is expected to weaken back to a Cat 3 hurricane in the slightly cooler waters before making landfall somewhere along the northern U.S. Gulf Coast although forecasters warn that there is still a "large uncertainty" in its track and forecast.
What forecasters say they do know is that Delta could bring dangerous storm surge, wind and hazardous rainfall anywhere from Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday. The potential for heavy rain and flash flooding will also increase across portions of the central Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, and southeastern United States as Delta moves inland later this week.
"Residents in these areas should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and monitor updates to the forecast of Delta."
Delta was quickly moving toward the west-northwest at 16 mph and was about 320 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and about 120 miles south of Grand Cayman early Tuesday, according to the hurricane center.
The northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and extreme western Cuba will likely see a dangerous storm surge and hurricane conditions beginning Tuesday night.
If the storm crosses the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday morning, as is forecast, it would be the second storm to cross the region mere days after Tropical Storm Gamma killed at least six people.
Delta's rapid intensification - from 40 mph winds to 110 mph in 24 hours - is the most an October Atlantic named storm has intensified since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Colorado State University Meteorologist Philip Klotzbach tweeted.
HURRICANE DELTA WATCHES/WARNINGS
- The government of Mexico has extended the hurricane warning westward along the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula to Dzilam.
- A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cayman Islands including Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, the Cuba province of Pinar del Rio, Isle of Youth, Punta Herrero to Tulum, Dzilam to Progreso, Mexico.
- A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Cuba province of Havana.
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