Louisiana is experiencing a major case of déjà vu Friday as Hurricane Delta takes aim at nearly the same spot where Hurricane Laura ripped apart buildings, severed power lines and clogged streets with debris just six weeks ago.
Delta, a 120-mph Category 3 “major” hurricane, is expected to make landfall on Friday. Many residents in its path have fled their homes under a patchwork of mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders.
Coastal Louisiana has not yet recovered from Laura, which caused over $14 billion in damage and killed at least 26 people. Thousands of Laura evacuees remain in hotels around the state.
What we know as of 8 a.m. EDT:
- Delta is expected to make landfall Friday evening somewhere on the southwest coast of Louisiana. Tropical storm-force winds are expected to arrive in a few hours.
- As it approaches the northern Gulf coast later Friday, Delta is expected to weaken slowly, and then rapidly after it makes landfall and the center moves inland.
- In addition to the danger from high winds, the risk of storm surge remains extremely high. Storm surges are forecast for the Gulf Coast from Texas to Louisiana.
- In 2020, there have been 16 separate weather disasters across the nation that each caused at least $1 billion in damage.
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Storm surge forecast for Gulf Coast, from Texas to Louisiana
Hurricane conditions are expected to hit from east of High Islands, Texas to Morgan City, Louisiana by Friday afternoon or evening, with tropical storm conditions expected within this area by early Friday.
Friday through Saturday, Delta is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rain, with isolated maximum totals of 15 inches, for southwest into south central Louisiana.
For east Texas to northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi, Delta is expected to produce 3 to 6 inches of rain, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches. These rainfall amounts will lead to flash, urban, small stream and isolated minor river flooding.
As Delta moves farther inland, 1 to 3 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts, are expected in the Ohio Valley and Mid Atlantic this weekend.
Fear in Louisiana: Delta aims for Laura’s wake
Uncollected debris from the last storm could turn into dangerous missiles and again knock out power to thousands.
“It seems — I don’t know if everybody feels this way — we’re still in a state of disbelief we’re having to go through this, but we do need to,” Calcasieu Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said in a Thursday morning briefing. “It’s very unusual.”
Calcasieu Parish, home to Louisiana’s fifth-largest city Lake Charles, and neighboring Jefferson Davis Parish were among those placed under parishwide mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday.
“So unfortunate and heartbreaking that the area of Louisiana that was hit so hard by Hurricane Laura is now threatened by this hurricane,” Dr. Rick Knabb told the USA TODAY Network on Thursday. Knabb is a former National Hurricane Center director and a hurricane expert at The Weather Channel.
How strong will Delta be when it hits?
As of 4 a.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center warns that a “life-threatening” storm surge and hurricane-force winds could hit the Northern Gulf Coast later Friday.
Delta is not going to be as strong as Laura when it moves inland, former National Hurricane Center director Dr. Rick Knabb said, but it will be comparable in size.
“People should be taking this one just as seriously as they did Laura,” Knabb said. “You don’t want to fail to prepare for this one because you perceive that it’s not as dangerous, because it is still a very life-threatening situation.”
More people than normal are fleeing the area, said Becky Broussard, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director for Vermilion Parish.
“I think people are not as complacent, because there have been so many storms in this area and they know what it can be,” Broussard said.
Hurricane Delta could be record-breaking 17th weather disaster of 2020
In 2020, there have been 16 separate weather disasters across the nation that each caused at least $1 billion in damage, according to a report released this week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That ties a record set in 2011 and 2017. It’s also a record sixth consecutive year with at least 10 separate billion-dollar disasters.
If Hurricane Delta causes $1 billion or more in damage as it smashes into the Gulf Coast this weekend, 2020 will break the record for most “billion-dollar” weather disasters in a single year.
Life or death forecasts are improving — finally — in this key area
National Hurricane Center forecasters saw something early on with Hurricane Delta that reticent weather models didn’t, and it led to decisions that were taboo just a decade ago.
While computers were modest regarding intensity, NHC meteorologists were bullish, pushing wind-speed forecasts to the highest end of the model output. By Monday afternoon, they were predicting rapid intensification — defined as a harrowing ascent in wind speeds of at least 35 mph in 24 hours.
Delta’s winds gained 70 mph in its first 24 hours — an incredible escalation not seen in an October storm since 2005’s Hurricane Wilma.
“It was exceptionally rare for us to call for rapid intensification,” said John Cangialosi, an NHC senior hurricane specialist. “Ten years ago, we may have thought it would happen, but we didn’t have the courage. Today, we’re doing it with more success.”
Delta already lashed Cancun, Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane
On Wednesday, Delta hit Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane just south of the resort city of Cancun with high winds and heavy rain. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Delta continued the record-breaking theme of the current hurricane season, becoming the earliest storm to be named Delta. The Greek alphabet is tapped for names after the predetermined 21 names have been used. The previous record-holding Delta storm formed on Nov. 15, 2005.
Delta would be the 10th named storm to hit the U.S. in a single season, also an all-time record. This year has tied 1916 for nine tropical systems that made landfall in the U.S., AccuWeather said.
Contributing: Daniella Medina, Ayrika L Whitney and Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser; Greg Hilburn, Monroe News-Star; Amber Roberson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger; Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post; Doyle Rice & John Bacon, USA TODAY; C. A. Bridges, Pensacola News Journal; The Associated Press
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