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Hurricane Delta Heads For Yucatan Peninsula As Category 3 Storm

Updated at 5 a.m. ET Wednesday

Hurricane Delta took aim at Mexico's northeast Yucatan coast Wednesday as a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, having weakened somewhat since Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said. It is still categorized as a major storm.

Delta earlier grew at an extraordinary rate, rising from sustained winds of only 40 mph Monday morning, to Category 4 on Tuesday with winds of 130 mph. The NHS says the storm is expected to strengthen once again as it heads for the U.S. Gulf coast.

Should it hit the central Gulf coast as a Category 4 storm, Delta will likely cause "catastrophic damage," according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

For now, Delta poses the most immediate threat to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where resort spots such as Tulum and Cozumel are under a hurricane warning as the area awaits the storm center's arrival early Wednesday.

The NHS said the storm could bring a "life-threatening storm surge" to the region, with water 8 to 12 feet above normal tide levels.

The storm is predicted to take a slightly more westward path than forecasters had been predicting. But it's then seen curling toward the north and northeast, and its potential U.S. landfall remains on the Louisiana coast – raising concern in a region that has already seen flooding and power outages from storms over the summer.

"This storm will affect Louisiana and everyone needs to prepare accordingly," Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Tuesday.

Delta's brief pass over land in Mexico will not do much to tame it. The hurricane center says "re-strengthening is forecast when the hurricane moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico."

Delta raises the very likely prospect that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which has already set records for its fast-paced activity, will now see more U.S. landfalls by named storms than any other recorded year.

"The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is currently tied with the 1916 Atlantic hurricane season," meteorologist Philip Klotzbach says via Twitter, "for most continental US named storm landfalls in a season on record (9 landfalls)."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Mark Katkov