MEXICO CITY (NewsNation Now) — Delta rapidly intensified into a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday, packing 130 mph winds on a course to hammer southeastern Mexico and then strike 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.
The National Hurricane Center reported that Delta is “expected to be an extremely dangerous hurricane when it reaches the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.”
Delta will continue to strengthen as its forward speed increases, the NHC said. It’s expected to hit the Yucatan as a major hurricane Wednesday before moving over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. 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, and 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 press conference late Monday.
Zavala said preventative evacuations would begin Tuesday morning.
Forecasters said the hurricane was moving into an area with very warm water and nearly calm high winds that forecasters at the hurricane center called “a very conducive environment for strengthening.”
After passing over 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.
The potential for heavy rainfall and flash flooding will increase across portions of the Tennessee Valley, southeastern United States and the central Gulf Coast.
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.
This story will be updated with the latest developments throughout the day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.