FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Hurricane Delta has stabilized as a Category 2 storm and its track has drifted a bit to the west, excluding New Orleans and including parts of Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center's 2 p.m. advisory. But Delta is expected to regain strength and is still projected to affect Louisiana more than any other state on the Gulf Coast.
"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.
Delta's center has emerged from land in Mexico now and the storm should restrengthen Wednesday night into Thursday over the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico.
The U.S. Gulf Coast is preparing for Hurricane Delta's projected Friday landfall, but tropical storm-force winds could arrive Thursday night.
The college football game between Louisiana State University 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.
Destri said Hurricane Delta is still expected to grow in intensity and size because it's over warm water.
"How much larger, it remains to be seen," he said.
A storm surge watch was put in effect Wednesday for an area ranging from High Island, Texas, to the Alabama-Florida border. A hurricane watch is in effect for an area ranging from High Island to Grand Isle, Louisiana., and a tropical storm watch is in effect for areas in Texas and Louisiana.
A storm surge watch, according to the National Hurricane Center means "there is a possibility of life- threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours."
A hurricane watch, according to the hurricane center, means "hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area" usually within 48 hours.
The hurricane center says a tropical storm watch means "tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 48 hours."
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.
As of 2 p.m. Delta - the earliest 25th-named storm ever to form - was located about 115 miles west of Cabo Catoche, Mexico, traveling northwest at 17 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
Louisiana, Mississippi and a sliver of southeast Texas are in the forecast path. The track shifted away from Florida's Panhandle on Tuesday night.
In addition to life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds, Delta is expected to inundate the region with up to 8 inches of rain, and up to 1 foot in isolated amounts along the northern Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi Valley, creating the potential for flash flooding and river flooding, according to the hurricane center.
Conditions could be conducive for prolonged flooding in the region.
Tropical-storm-force winds may reach the U.S. coast overnight Thursday.
During the day Thursday, swells could lead to "some coastal flooding at high tide in some low-lying areas, particularly in southern Louisiana," according to the Weather Channel.
Delta is projected to have winds in the 125 mph range when it makes landfall along the Gulf Coast.
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.
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 30 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds 125 miles from the center, according to the latest advisory.
"Our concern is storms like this tend to grow in size as they get into the Gulf of Mexico," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said Tuesday. "Where this is a small hurricane it'll probably grow as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico, and with the core circulation like it has now when a storm gets bigger like that the core circulation, the eye, tends to get a title bit bigger and that kind of prevents it from really becoming any stronger than it already is."
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."
Delta isn't projected to be a Category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall in the U.S., but Kottlowski said that's not the thing to keep in mind.
"The category has no meaning to the impacts," he said. "What happens with a storm like this is it creates a large wind field. It already will have an increase in water ahead of it and all that will create a really dangerous storm surge along the coast. So just because it drops a category from one to the other is really not going to make any difference in the impact."
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.
"For some areas they're still picking up the pieces after Laura, they're still picking up the pieces after Sally," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. "We've been through it in Florida where we have multiple storms in the same year so we know what that's like here and it can be a very difficult situation."
October storms often threaten Florida as they move north and then northeastward. None of the nine storms that hit the continental U.S. this year made landfall in Florida.
"Storms don't move by themselves, they move by the pattern that is set up at the time," Feltgen said. "We've been in this pattern where we get a number of these systems that have been moving through the Caribbean and then they're gonna start gaining some latitude as they get into the western Caribbean and that puts them in the Gulf of Mexico. And once you've got a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, it's very rare for them to get out of the Gulf without hitting something."
Hurricane warnings were in effect Wednesday in Mexico from Tulum to Dzilam, including Cozumel and Cancun. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Yucatan and parts of Cuba.
"This could be the strongest hurricane strike on Cancun in 15 years, since Wilma stalled over the northeast Yucatan Peninsula after becoming the strongest Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone on record, by pressure," according to The Weather Channel.
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