Hurricane Delta will bring a “life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds, and significant flooding” to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the National Weather Service says. The storm has strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of 120 mph.
The hurricane is forecast to make landfall Friday evening — the National Weather Service office in New Orleans is warning residents, “Worsening conditions are expected through the day.”
Delta is currently 160 miles south of Cameron, La., the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 a.m. ET update. The center of the storm is expected to make landfall just east of that town, which was hit hard by Hurricane Laura in late August. The system is moving north at 12 mph.
“It’s a very healthy storm,” NHC Director Ken Graham said in an online briefing Friday morning.
Noting satellite imagery that shows clouds and vapor fanning out along the edges of the system, Graham added, “The air coming in, building that convection, and all those winds, and then the air coming out — you can see this thing basically breathing.”
A hurricane warning is in effect from High Island, Texas, east of Galveston, to Morgan City, La., south of Baton Rouge. Delta’s rains are already falling on southwestern Louisiana and southeast Texas. It’s also bringing a storm surge that could cause water to rise 7-11 feet above ground.
The storm will likely weaken slightly before making landfall, as it is forecast to cross over cooler waters and enter less favorable wind conditions as it nears the Louisiana coast.
“Regardless, Delta is forecast to be near major hurricane intensity when it makes landfall and significant impacts are expected,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Storms of similar intensity commonly cause major damage to homes and snap or uproot trees, along with causing widespread power outages.
Delta’s strength has sharply fluctuated since it became a hurricane on Monday — including an explosive growth early on, from 40 mph Monday morning, to a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 130 mph.
Despite that early strength, the storm was relatively small. But it has grown larger as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. Delta’s center is now projecting hurricane-force winds outward for up to 40 miles, and tropical-storm-force winds for up to 160 miles — increasing the area for potential damage from the storm and any tornadoes it might generate on land.