For the fourth time this year, Louisiana finds itself in the crosshairs of another named storm that threatens to bring more rain, wind and flood damage to a state that has already borne the brunt of this historic hurricane season.
Hurricane Delta is bearing down on Louisiana as a Category 3 storm, producing maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as it moves northwest through the Gulf of Mexico at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 4 p.m. Thursday advisory.
It is deemed a “dangerous” hurricane by the center, but is expected to weaken to a Category 2 storm before making landfall Friday afternoon along southwestern Louisiana — the same region that is still reeling from Hurricane Laura, which made landfall Aug. 27 as a Category 4 storm.
So far Florida has been spared a direct hit from the 24 named storms that have formed during the second most active Atlantic storm season in modern times. But Louisiana has been hit by Tropical Storm Cristobal, Hurricane Marco and — still the worst of all — Laura.
Hurricane Laura brought destructive wind speeds of up to 150 mph and storm surge that killed at least 26 people and caused billions in damages. Louisiana saw a third of the 71 total casualties blamed on Laura.
Delta, the most powerful Greek-named storm on record, could still inflict significant damage because of where it is expected to make landfall, said Colorado State University research scientist and hurricane forecaster Philip Klotzbach.
“It’s pretty dang close to where Laura hit,” Klotzbach said of Delta’s forecasted path. “The storm is moving fairly quickly, so, while there will be rainfall, it won’t be the biggest concern with this storm. It’ll be both its size and — because of its size — the amount of storm surge it produces.”
The hurricane center is projecting storm surge could reach as high as 11 feet in some parts of Louisiana. A storm surge warning is in effect for all of the Louisiana coast, from Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans to the Texas border. The storm will also create other hazards along the northern Gulf Coast, including storm surge inundation, damaging wind, flash flooding and tornadoes.
The hurricane center predicts Delta will make landfall Friday afternoon or evening between Lafayette and Lake Charles, where tarps are still being used on roofs that were damaged by Hurricane Laura.
Meanwhile, Florida’s fortune continues for now. The Tampa Bay region won’t see any significant weather impacts from Delta, either.
The Sunshine State’s luck this year has been just that, Klotzbach said, mostly luck. For Delta specifically, an area of high pressure over Florida has helped to protect the state.
“Amazingly, Florida has been able to pull off not being hit by anything,” Klotzbach said. “That’s pretty impressive given the rest of 2020.”
Louisiana hasn’t had the same fortune this year, as it prepares for its next potentially-catastrophic storm.
Lake Charles was devastated by Laura. A city official told NBC News that more than 95 percent of the city’s buildings sustained some type of damage from Laura, with some completely demolished. A Motel 6 collapsed and thousands were without power for weeks.
Then on Thursday morning, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter issued a plea to his residents in a Facebook post:
“The latest track for Hurricane Delta does not look good for Lake Charles. You need to evacuate. You need to leave town. Your window is today.”
Delta is so named because meteorologists have had to designate storms using the Greek alphabet after all 21 storm names were used up by Sept. 18. That’s when Tropical Storm Wilfred formed in the Atlantic Ocean and eventually dissipated, never reaching land. Delta is the fourth Greek named storm of this year.
The 2005 hurricane season, still the most active and destructive in modern times, is the only other year that saw Greek-named storms. That year still holds the record for 27 named storms — just two more than this year so far. A record 15 hurricanes and seven major storms — any hurricane of Category 3 strength or greater — formed in 2005. This year has seen nine hurricanes and three major ones, Teddy, Laura and now Delta.
In the bay area, that area of high pressure that helped keep Delta from steering our way does raise the risks along Florida’s coastline, said National Weather Service meteorologist Austen Flannery.
“We’ve been under the influence of high pressure, which has kept Delta steered away from us,” Flannery said. “But we’ll still see an enhanced risk of rip currents from (Delta) and some larger swells making their way towards us.”
Flannery said Tampa Bay could see an increased chance of rain this week because of an increase of moisture in the atmosphere from Delta. Spectrum Bay News 9′s forecast gives Tampa Bay just a 20 percent chance of rain on Friday but a 50 percent chance on Saturday and Sunday.
2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
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