Boston — Hurricane Delta continued to strengthen as it drifts towards the Gulf of Mexico, where it is poised to clip the Yucatan peninsula before becoming the record 10th storm to hit the US this season.

Delta intensified with maximum sustained winds of 137km/h, the US National Hurricane Centre said. The storm became hurricane strength on Monday night, and it could reach tree-snapping category 3 power on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as it hits Mexico, said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger.

Delta’s forecast track places the Yucatan, struck just days ago by tropical storm Gamma, directly in its path. The storm will then drift across the southern Gulf and is likely to weaken before it strikes between Louisiana and the Florida panhandle on Friday.

“Everyone in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida panhandle should be prepared for a hurricane landfall,” Truchelut said. “It is likely we are going to be seeing impacts along the central Gulf coast.”

Delta would be the fourth hurricane to strike the Gulf in 2020, and the 10th storm to hit the US. It is also this year’s 25th named system, only the second time that mark has been reached in records going back to 1851. A high of 28 storms formed in 2005, including deadly hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans.

On its current path, the storm is likely to cause oil and natural gas production offshore Louisiana to shut down, and it poses a threat to onshore refineries and shipping, said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist with the Energy Weather Group.

Output from the gulf has been disrupted several times this year from tropical storms and hurricanes moving through the region.

“Expect widespread shut-ins of rigs and platforms across the upper Gulf Coast over next two days,” Rouiller said.

The hurricane centre calls for Delta’s winds to peak at 190km/h then weaken to 160km/h before it strikes the US coast. A lot will depend on how much power it loses crossing the Yucatan and whether wind shear tears at its structure and cooler water robs it of fuel. Hurricanes depend on warm ocean water to build strength.

Delta was southwest of Jamaica and churning west-northwest at 11km/h. Hurricane warnings have been issued for western Cuba and Mexico’s coastline.


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