Delta downgraded to tropical storm; more than 300K power outages reported

Joshua Bote

Doyle Rice

Joel Shannon
 
| USA TODAY

Delta roared ashore near Creole, Louisiana, on Friday night, a location  near where Hurricane Laura made landfall six weeks ago.

Video from storm-weary Lake Charles, Louisiana, showed flapping tarps, rising waters and high winds. Delta made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane before quickly weakening to a 90 mph Category 1 storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

By early Saturday, Delta dwindled to a tropical storm with 60 mph winds. Still, forecasters warned of danger from storm surge and flash floods across much of southwestern Louisiana and parts of neighboring Texas.

Within hours of Delta’s arrival, more than 300,000 power-outages were reported in the state, according to poweroutage.us. In neighboring Mississippi, reports of power outages and storm damage have begun, and widespread outages were also impacting portions of eastern Texas Friday evening.

Many residents in Delta’s 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.

Delta is the 10th named storm to make landfall in the continental US this year – the most in a single Atlantic hurricane season on record, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. Prior to 2020, the most named storms to make landfall in the continental U.S. was 9, set in 1916.

It’s also the first hurricane named after a Greek letter to make landfall in U.S. history.

What we know as of 8 p.m. EDT:

  • Delta made landfall Friday evening on the southwest coast of Louisiana. 
  • Delta is moving north-northeast at 14 mph and was located about 25 miles west-southwest of Jennings, Louisiana.. 
  • Rapid weakening has begun and is expected to continue overnight as Delta moves inland.
  • In addition to the danger from high winds, the risk of storm surge remains extremely high. Storm surge is already beginning to pile up along the coast of Louisiana around the area where Hurricane Delta made landfall, AccuWeather said. 
  • In 2020, there have been 16 separate weather disasters across the nation that each caused at least $1 billion in damage.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

The mayor of Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana says tarps that were put up to protect buildings damaged six weeks ago by Hurricane Laura are now flying off in Hurricane Delta’s strong winds.

Mayor Nic Hunter said tarps were being ripped away from rooftops. He was hunkered down in a secure location in downtown Lake Charles.

“Tarps are being blown off all throughout the city,” Hunter said by phone after Delta made landfall Friday evening as a Category 2 hurricane.

He added: “I’m in a building right now with a tarp on it and just the sound of the tarp flapping on the building sounds like someone pounding with a sledge hammer on top of the building. It’s pretty intense.”

He said piles of unsecured debris from Laura are also being tossed about in Delta’s high winds. He said some of the debris was moving into the streets and floating in water.

— The Associated Press

LAKE CHARLES, La. – As Lake Charles, Louisiana, braces for Hurricane Delta, still reeling from being pummeled by Laura, a sea of houses with bright blue tarps stretched over the roofs stood mostly empty. 

Howard Wallace, 32, stood in his home Friday – or what used to be his home – before it was shattered by Laura. The floors are uneven, everything is tossed about, the home’s exterior was crushed by nearly three-foot thick oak trees that crashed down as Laura raged through Lake Charles. 

Now destroyed, Wallace’s home was once the oldest house on Armstrong Street. “It was shocking,” Wallace said of the destruction. “To lose everything – Everything you’ve worked hard for and to have it go.” 

The clothes he wore Friday were donated items. He’s a mechanic mostly out of a job since his workplace was damaged by Laura. 

The city has barely made a dent in recovery from Laura and now Delta is on its way to continue the beating. 

“It’s almost numbing,” Wallace said. “I’m fighting a lot of different emotions. … I’m just trying to stay hopeful. I’ve got my fingers crossed and I’m prayed up.” 

– Brinley Hineman, Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Louisiana has been a punching bag during the 2020 hurricane season, whether taking a glancing blow from Tropical Storm Cristobal in June, a whiff from Hurricane Marco in August, a haymaker from Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 and a late-round blow from Hurricane Delta on Friday night.

“This season has been relentless,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said earlier this week.

Ben Schott, the lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s New Orleans station, blamed La Niña as a major factor in the record-breaking season.

“If you go back to the beginning of the season it was forecast to be very active,” Schott said. “La Niña is a good setup for storms to develop in the Atlantic.”

As for why Louisiana has been a magnet for storms in 2020, Schott said: “It’s just bad luck.”

“I hate to say it that way, but it’s true,” he said. “I can’t give you a scientific reason we’ve been the target. It just seems like the atmospheric factors that steer these storms have set up to steer them our way this year.”

– Greg Hilburn, Monroe News-Star

Delta appeared destined to set records at landfall – the 10th named storm to hit the continental United States this year, surpassing the number that hit in 1916, according to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach.

Delta would also be the first Greek-alphabet-named hurricane to hit the continental U.S. And as the fourth hurricane or tropical storm to hit Louisiana in a year, it would tie a 2002 record, Klotzbach said.

The storm’s approach also marked the sixth time this season that Louisiana has been threatened by tropical storms or hurricanes. 

Hurricane Delta is still projected to make landfall in southwest Louisiana, where a Category 4 storm hit just six weeks ago and mandatory evacuation orders are in place. 

“We’re in a very vulnerable situation here in Calcasieu Parish right now,” Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. “We really are. We just have some circumstances that are out of our control and that can be potentially very dangerous for us. At this point I can’t imagine why anybody would want to stay here (through Delta).”

Officials continued to urge residents to evacuate and offered bus service for those without transportation Thursday, and many seem to be heeding such calls.

Ricky Edwards, operations director for the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, said that most people in the county are “actually heeding all of the reports.”

– Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser

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.

– C. A. Bridges, Pensacola News Journal

Visualizer: Why are we having such an active hurricane season?

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. 

Déjà vu: Still recovering from Laura, Louisiana braces for Delta landfall near same spot

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.

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. 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.

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.”

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; The Associated Press

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