Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Hurricane Delta is approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast just below Category 4 strength and is expected to bring severe conditions and life-threatening storm surge to southwest Louisiana later Friday, forecasters said.
In its 4 a.m. CDT update, the National Hurricane Center said the hurricane was located 200 miles south of Cameron, La., and had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It was moving north-northwest at 12 mph.
The storm would reach Category 4 strength with sustained winds of 130 mph. Delta strengthened into a Category 3 storm later on Thursday, and had been a Category 1 storm on Wednesday.
"On the forecast track, the center of Delta will move inland within the hurricane warning area this evening," the NHC said in its advisory.
"Slow weakening is expected to begin as Delta approaches the northern Gulf coast later today, with rapid weakening expected after the center moves inland."
A hurricane warning has been issued from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, La.
Delta had previously been projected to make landfall somewhere between far eastern Texas and western Mississippi, a region that has been threatened twice this year by hurricanes -- Laura and Sally, both in September.
The track narrowed late Thursday and early Friday as Delta neared the U.S. Gulf Coast.
"Delta is expected to bring a very dangerous maximum storm surge of 6-10 feet with the highest values near and to the right of where the hurricane makes landfall, especially for inlets and bays where water can become funneled, creating a rapid rise in water levels," AccuWeather's top hurricane expert, Dan Kottlowski, said.
The NHC also said "a few tornadoes are possible today and tonight over southern portions of Louisiana and Mississippi."
The forecast track should keep the worst impacts west of New Orleans, but communities from Lake Charles to Lafayette, Louisiana, can be hit especially hard with extensive property damage and power outages from a combination of high winds, torrential rain and flooding along this portion of the Interstate 10 corridor in Louisiana.
A storm surge warning has been issued from High Island to Ocean Springs, Miss.; and a tropical storm warning from High Island west to Sargent, Texas, Morgan City east to the mouth of Pearl River, and Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas.
Delta exploded into a Category 4 hurricane on Monday before gradually weakening. On Tuesday, its intensification was the most extreme in 15 years for an October hurricane.
Delta also set a speed record for strengthening from a depression to a Category 4 hurricane, just over 36 hours, surpassing Keith from 2000 -- and strengthened into the second-most intense hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season on Tuesday. The only storm to become stronger this season was Hurricane Laura, which packed peak winds of 150 mph.
The storm returned to Category 3 strength -- and "major" hurricane status -- once sustained winds reached 111 mph on Thursday.Sign up for our daily Top News Newsletter