One projection has Hurricane Delta on a more westward track, putting Merida and Progreso closer to its path. Graphic: Yucatan civil protection unit

Yucatan state was divided into yellow and orange alert zones as Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified into a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph / 175 kmh winds Tuesday morning.

The hurricane is on a course to hammer Quintana Roo and eastern Yucatan and then grow to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 as it approaches the U.S. Gulf coast later this week.

Merida and Progreso are under yellow alert, considered under low risk for damage, but power outages and flooding are still likely — particularly since the area is still under the effects of Gamma, which was downgraded to a low-pressure system and was no longer being tracked by the U.S.-based National Hurricane Center.

Cuba’s westernmost province and the Cayman Islands were under tropical storm warnings on Tuesday but the immediate worst impacts were expected along tourist zones on the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Hurricane conditions will begin Tuesday night and Delta will make landfall early Wednesday.

“I honestly don’t see much that will stop it until it reaches Yucatan, due to low vertical wind shear, high deep-layer moisture, and the very warm and deep waters of the northwestern Caribbean,” National Hurricane Center forecaster Eric Blake told The Associated Press.

Data from a U.S. Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter plane indicate that Delta will continue to strengthen as its forward speed increases, the National Hurricane Center said. It’s expected to hit Quintana Roo as a major hurricane, with an extremely dangerous storm surge raising water levels by as much as 6 to 9 feet / 2 to 3 meters, accompanied by large and dangerous waves, and flash flooding inland.

Delta “presents an important danger for the coastal regions” because of the storm surge in the lower parts of Quintana Roo, such as the resorts of Cancun, Holbox island or Isla Mujeres, Jorge Zavala, head of Mexico’s meteorological service, said in a press conference late Monday.

Zavala said preventative evacuations would begin Tuesday morning.

Delta’s center Tuesday was about 370 miles / 595 kilometers east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving west-northwest at 15 mph / 24 kmh.

Once it passes the Peninsula hits the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters are unsure of its exact path, but send warnings to residents from coastal Louisina to the western Florida panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday.

“Residents in these areas should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and monitor updates to the forecast of Delta,” the Hurricane Center said.

With information from The Associated Press

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