The record-shattering 2020 Atlantic hurricane season shows no signs of slowing down. Tropical Storm Delta formed early Monday morning just south of Jamaica in the Caribbean. The storm is forecast to become a hurricane and impact the U.S. Gulf Coast by the end of the week.
Delta is the 25th named storm of the season, 6 full weeks ahead of the record pace set in 2005 — a season that featured 28 tropical systems. With nearly two months left in the season, and three months left in the year, 2020 is on track to leave 2005 in the dust. It’s only the second hurricane season on record to.
Delta follows right on the heels of Tropical Storm Gamma, which is still spinning about 600 miles to the northwest of Delta, near Cancun, Mexico. Gamma is forecast to continue to weaken, as Delta becomes the main event in the Caribbean.
As of Monday morning, hostile upper-level winds, also called wind shear, which were inhibiting the system from organizing, have started to lessen. In response, Delta is quickly becoming better organized as thunderstorms blossom and encircle the center of low pressure.
As a result Delta has now entered its strengthening phase, which is expected to last through Thursday as the system moves northwestward into the Gulf of Mexico. The computer model intensity guidance suggests that rapid intensification, which is becoming more common in the Atlantic due to warmer ocean temperatures from climate change, is likely in Delta’s near future.
The official forecast from the National Hurricane Center is for Delta to become a hurricane Tuesday as it passes through the Yucatan Channel, west of Havana, Cuba. By Wednesday it is forecast to attain winds of around 105 mph, making it a strong Category 2, bordering on Category 3, which is major hurricane status.
While Delta is not explicitly forecast to become a major hurricane, it certainly can not be ruled out. That’s because over the next 48 hours the system will be moving over the northwest Caribbean into a bullseye of some of the most potent ocean heat content on Earth. Not only is it very hot water, 86 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but also very deep hot water, which also helps sustain and strengthen storms.
Delta is expected to reach peak intensity on Wednesday and Thursday as it enters the central Gulf of Mexico. Then all indications are that wind shear — those hostile upper-level winds — will develop on top of the system and act to subdue the intensity of the storm.
The official forecast calls for the system to weaken before making landfall Friday. Most models are in general agreement on the landfall occurring somewhere in an area stretching from southeast Louisiana near New Orleans eastward to Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. But with four days to go, a lot can change between now and then. Residents along the Gulf Coast should begin making initial preparations now.
When Delta makes landfall, it will become the 10th tropical cyclone to make landfall along the U.S. coast this season, the most on record in the Atlantic.