RALEIGH, N.C. -- Hurricane-force wind from Delta will reach Louisiana by Friday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.
That wind will be accompanied by heavy rain and life-threatening storm surge.
Delta is located about 345 miles south of the Louisiana coast. It was a Category 2 storm earlier in the day on Thursday but grew stronger and became a Category 3 around 5 p.m.
Thankfully, the storm is expected to keep moving quickly. So while it may still pack quite the punch when it does make landfall, it is not expected to linger over Louisiana.
Still, the rain is going to fall in bunches. The National Weather Service is warning Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and others that significant flash flooding is likely.
Wednesday, the storm made landfall about 10 miles south of Cancun, Mexico as a category 2 storm. It knocked out power to about 266,000 people, but no deaths were reported.
IN THE MIDDLE OF A HURRICANE: Storm chaser takes us inside Delta
Moving over the Yucatan Peninsula weakened Delta, but it has already begun to re-strengthen as it has moved over warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters say it could become a Category 4 storm again sometime Thursday and make landfall in Louisiana on Friday.
If Delta makes landfall in Louisiana, it would be the fourth named storm to make landfall in the state--a new record. The landfall of Delta will also be the first Greek letter storm to ever make landfall in the continental United States.
Hurricane Delta is the 25th named storm of the Atlantic's unprecedented hurricane season.
"This season has been relentless," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, dusting off his now common refrain of 2020 - "Prepare for the worst. Pray for the best."
Delta is tracking a similar path to Hurricane Laura, which made landfall August 27 as a Category 4 storm.
Nearly six weeks later, some 5,600 people remain in New Orleans hotels because their homes are too damaged to occupy. Trees, roofs and other debris left in Laura's wake still sit by roadsides in the Lake Charles area waiting for pickup even as forecasters warned that Delta could be a larger than average storm.
New Orleans spent a few days last month bracing for Hurricane Sally before it skirted to the east, making landfall in Alabama on Sept. 16.
Edwards said President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a federal emergency declaration in advance for the state. The Democratic governor said he doesn't expect widespread mandatory evacuations.
But Edwards said Wednesday that Delta is moving fast, so hurricane force winds could reach well inland, and expected heavy rains could cause flooding.
Plywood, batteries and rope already were flying off the shelves at the Tiger Island hardware store in Morgan City, Louisiana, which would be close to the center of the storm's path.
"The other ones didn't bother me, but this one seems like we're the target," customer Terry Guarisco said as a store employee helped him load his truck with plywood needed to board up his home.
In Sulphur, across the Calcasieu River from Lake Charles, Ben Reynolds was deciding whether to leave or stay. He had to use a generator for power for a week after Hurricane Laura.
"It's depressing," Reynolds said. "It's scary as hell."
By sundown Wednesday, Acy Cooper planned to have his three shrimp boats locked down and tucked into a Louisiana bayou for the third time this season.
"We're not making any money," Cooper said. "Every time one comes we end up losing a week or two."
Lynn Nguyen, who works at the TLC Seafood Market in Abbeville, said each storm threat forces fisherman to spend days pulling hundreds of crab traps from the water or risk losing them.
"It's been a rough year. The minute you get your traps out and get fishing, its time to pull them out again because something is brewing out there," Nguyen said.
Elsewhere in Abbeville, Wednesday brought another round of boarding up and planning, said Vermilion Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Guillory.
"I think that the stress is not just the stress of the storm this year, it's everything - one thing after another," Guillory said. "Somebody just told me, 'You know, we've really had enough.'"
On Grand Isle, the Starfish restaurant planned to stay open until it ran out of food Wednesday. Restaurant employee Nicole Fantiny then planned to join the rush of people leaving the barrier island, where the COVID-19 pandemic already devastated the tourism industry.
"The epidemic, the coronavirus, put a lot of people out of work. Now, having to leave once a month for these storms - it's been taking a lot," said Fantiny. She tried to quit smoking two weeks ago but gave in and bought a pack of cigarettes Tuesday as Delta strengthened.
While New Orleans has been mostly spared by the weather and found itself outside Delta's cone Wednesday, constant vigilance and months as a COVID-19 hot spot have strained a vulnerable city still scarred by memories of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Delta's shifting forecast track likely meant no need for a major evacuation, but the city's emergency officials were on alert.
"We've had five near misses. We need to watch this one very, very closely," New Orleans Emergency Director Collin Arnold said.
Along with getting hit by Hurricane Laura and escaping Hurricane Sally, Louisiana saw heavy flooding June 7 from Tropical Storm Cristobal. Tropical Storm Beta prompted tropical storm warnings in mid-September as it slowly crawled up the northeast Texas coast.
Tropical Storm Marco looked like it might deliver the first half of a hurricane double-blow with Laura, but nearly dissipated before hitting the state near the mouth of the Mississippi River on Aug. 24.
"I don't really remember all the names," Keith Dunn said as he loaded up his crab traps as a storm threatened for a fourth time this season in Theriot, a tiny bayou town just feet above sea level.
And there are nearly eight weeks of hurricane season left, although forecasters at the National Weather Service office in New Orleans noted in a discussion Tuesday of this week's forecast that outside of Delta, the skies above the Gulf of Mexico look calm.
"Not seeing any signs of any additional tropical weather in the extended which is OK with us because we are SO DONE with Hurricane Season 2020," they wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.