Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified into a Category 2 hurricane early Tuesday, packing 100 mph winds on a course to hammer southeastern Mexico and then pummel the U.S. Gulf coast later in the week.
The immediate brunt of the hurricane was expected to be felt by the resort-studded northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which was forecast to start seeing hurricane conditions Tuesday night with the storm reaching land in the early hours of Wednesday. A hurricane warning was in effect for Tulum and Cozumel, resorts still being soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gamma.
Data from a U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that Delta will continue to strengthen as its forward speed increases, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
It’s expected to hit the Yucatan as a major hurricane Wednesday before moving over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday.
CBS News weather producer David Parkinson said Delta is likely to be a fierce Category 4 hurricane, taking dead aim at Cancun. “A direct hit is likely,” Parkinson said. “The good news is that the storm is still very small.”
Forecasters warned of an extremely dangerous storm surge raising water levels by as much as 6 to 9 feet, accompanied by large and dangerous waves, with flash flooding inland.
Delta “presents an important danger for the coastal regions” because of the storm surge in the lower parts of Quintana Roo, such as the resorts of Cancun, Holbox island or Isla Mujeres, Jorge Zavala, head of Mexico’s meteorological service, said in a news conference late Monday.
Zavala said preventative evacuations would begin Tuesday.
Forecasters said the hurricane was moving into an area with very warm water and nearly calm high winds that the hurricane center called “a very conducive environment for strengthening.”
Delta’s center early Monday was about 420 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. It was moving west-northwest at 15 mph.
Once it’s inflicted its damage on Mexico, Delta is expected to make landfall along the central U.S. Gulf Coast around Friday and bring heavy rainfall into the southeastern United States.
Parkinson says landfall will probably happen Friday night in Louisiana somewhere from Lake Charles to Cocodrie, most likely somewhere between Lafayette and Morgan City.
Delta is the earliest 25th named storm to form in the Atlantic, beating the old record of Nov. 15, 2005, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.