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Friday February 26th, 2021 7:58PM

Tropical Storm Delta joins Gamma in busy hurricane season

By The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — As deadly Tropical Storm Gamma stalled just north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Monday, a potentially more threatening Tropical Storm Delta formed in the Caribbean, aiming to hit western Cuba and eventually the U.S. Gulf Coast, likely as a hurricane.

Gamma lashed Mexico's resort-studded coast with near-hurricane force winds, and drenched Tabasco and Chiapas states with a deluge that killed at least 6 people and forced thousands from their homes. But on Monday forecasters said it could dissipate Monday night.

Delta, meanwhile, was forecast to become a hurricane before hitting Cuba, and then intensify with winds around 100 mph (160 kph) before making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast around Friday. And while there is a large uncertainty in track and strengthening five days out, “there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall hazards along the coast from Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle," the hurricane center said.

Mexico's civil defense agency said in a statement that four of the deaths blamed on Gamma, including two children, were in Chiapas, where a landslide on a mountainous slope buried their home. The other two deaths were in Tabasco state, where one person was dragged away by the water and another drowned.

Gamma, along with cold fronts, combined over the weekend to cause extreme rains in parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas, affecting more than half a million people. The hardest-hit state was Tabasco, where more than 3,400 were evacuated to shelters.

The storm came ashore Saturday near Tulum with maximum sustained winds of nearly 70 mph (110 kph) — 4 mph (9 kph short of hurricane force), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Thousands of tourists were affected in a resort area that only recently reopened after a pandemic shutdown: The state’s tourism department reported Friday on Twitter that more than 41,000 tourists were present in Quintana Roo, with hotels in Cancun and Cozumel already at more than 30% occupancy.

Mexican authorities continued to warn people in the Yucatan on Monday as Gamma stalled offshore. The hurricane center said Monday that Gamma was about 160 miles (255 kms) east-northeast of Progreso, Mexico, and had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph). It was moving southwest at 4 mph (7 kph). Forecasters predicted up to 8 more inches of rain in the states of Yucatan, Campeche and Tabasco, producing significant flash flooding.

Delta is the earliest 25th named storm to form in the Atlantic, beating the old record of Nov. 15, 2005, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

Delta had top winds of 60 mph (95 kmh) Monday and was about 255 miles (410 km) south-southeast of Grand Cayman. It was moving near 7 mph (11 kmh), on track to hit the Cayman Islands early Tuesday and approach western Cuba Tuesday afternoon or evening before moving into the Gulf on Wednesday. It was forecast to become a hurricane Monday night or Tuesday before reaching Cuba.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the Cayman Islands and a hurricane watch was in effect for western Cuba and its Isle of Youth. Forecasters warned of heavy rainfall, flash flooding and mudslides in parts of Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and western Cuba.

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