The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Delta, which first formed as a named tropical storm early Monday, has become a powerful category 4 hurricane with winds in excess of 215 kilometers per hour in just over 27 hours.
The hurricane center reports the storm began Tuesday as a category 2 hurricane, based on the scale used to measure storm strength, with winds at about 175 kph. The storm increased in strength to a category 3 storm over several hours, but meteorologists say it took just 20 minutes to reach category 4 strength.
Delta is forecast to strike Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday with maximum sustained winds approaching 225 kph. After crossing the Yucatan, forecasters say the storm is likely to lose strength, but as it takes a sharp right turn to the north northeast across the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to regain its strength in the next 48 to 72 hours.
The hurricane center says cooler water and wind shears could weaken the storm a bit as it moves north, but Delta is expected to remain a dangerous hurricane when it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast later in the week.
Forecasters say if Delta maintains hurricane strength through landfall, it will become the fourth to hit the region this year, following Hanna, Laura and Sally. Weaker tropical storms Marco and Beta hit the area this year, as well.
Delta is the 25th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. When it officially formed Monday, it marked the earliest a hurricane season has reached 25 named storms since records have been kept.