Hurricane Delta, the 25th named Atlantic storm this year, intensified, with catastrophic winds expected to tear across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula before taking aim at the United States Gulf Coast later in the week, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Maximum sustained winds rose to 185 km/h (115mph) on Tuesday and are forecast to accelerate further and strike Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday as “an extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane, the NHC said.
Yucatan officials were evacuating hotels in coastal Cancun and warned residents to stay inside.
The storm will reenter the Gulf of Mexico a day later and intensify with winds of up to 225km/h (140mph), the NHC said.
Delta is expected to hit the US Gulf Coast between Louisiana and Florida by Friday. A US landfall would break a record that dates back to 1916 for the most named storms to hit the US, another milestone in a year marked by repeated natural disasters ranging from floods to wildfires to tornados.
“This will be an impactful hurricane,” said Dan Kottlowski, lead hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather. Warm water and a lack of wind shear will allow the storm to quickly strengthen, he said.
Delta’s winds could also bring nine-metre (30-foot) seas to areas off the Louisiana coast, Kottlowski said, noting this could affect shipping traffic and oil and gas production.
There have been so many Atlantic storms this year that forecasters have run out of prechosen names, turning to the Greek alphabet for the most recent. If Delta hits the coast, it would be the 10th named storm to strike the US.
Oil workers were fleeing offshore platforms and producers were shutting production on Tuesday, some for the fifth time this year.
Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP PLC, BHP Group, Equinor, Murphy Oil and Occidental Petroleum have begun removing staff and securing offshore facilities.
This year’s named storms so far have cost about $9bn in insured losses, compared with $75bn in 2017, according to Andrew Siffert, a vice president at reinsurance brokerage BMS Group.