Will Iota bring life-threatening storms, extreme rainfall to Central America? Experts warn of 'dangerous hurricane'

Flooding and mudslides in Honduras and Nicaragua could be exacerbated by Hurricane Eta’s recent effects there, resulting in significant to potentially catastrophic impacts


                            Will Iota bring life-threatening storms, extreme rainfall to Central America? Experts warn of 'dangerous hurricane'
(Getty Images)

The storm known as Iota has rapidly strengthened into a major hurricane and is expected to bring potentially catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge, and extreme rainfall to Central America. It will be the second major hurricane to hit the region in the past two weeks. On November 3, Hurricane Eta made a Category 4 landfall, battering houses, causing landslides and flooding. 

Currently, a hurricane warning for Iota is in effect for Providencia, the coast of Nicaragua from the Honduras/Nicaragua border to Sandy Bay Sirpi, and the coast of northeastern Honduras from Punta Patuca to the Honduras/Nicaragua border. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion, suggests the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

A life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds along the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves, says the forecast. “Iota is a category 4 hurricane. Additional rapid strengthening is expected during the next 12 to 18 hours, and Iota could possibly be a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches Central America Monday night. Potentially catastrophic winds and a life-threatening storm surge are expected along portions of the coast of northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras, where a hurricane warning is in effect,” warns the NHC forecast.

A hurricane watch – which implies hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area – is in effect for San Andres. A tropical storm warning is in effect for San Andres, the coast of Nicaragua from south of Sandy Bay Sirpi to Bluefields, and the northern coast of Honduras from west of Punta Patuca to Punta Castilla. Such a warning indicates that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.

Iota has become the 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which is two more storms than the previous record for a season set in 2005. Iota is the 13th hurricane of the 2020 hurricane season. Only 2005 produced more (15) hurricanes.

Where is it currently located?

According to an update issued at 1 AM EST (0600 UTC) on November 16, the center of Hurricane Iota was located by an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft near latitude 13.5 North, longitude 80.7 West. Iota is moving toward the west near 10 miles per hour (17 km/hour).

Iota has become the 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which is two more storms than the previous record for a season set in 2005 (Getty images)

A westward to west-northwestward motion is expected through landfall. After landfall, a westward to west-southwestward motion is forecast. On the forecast track, the core of Iota will pass near or over Providencia island during the next few hours, and make landfall within the hurricane warning area in northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras on Monday night.

Reports from the aircraft indicate that maximum sustained wind has increased to near 125 mph (205 km/hour) with higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles (240 km).

What will be the likely impact?

Through Friday (November 20) morning, heavy rainfall from Iota will likely lead to life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding across portions of Central America. Flooding and mudslides in Honduras and Nicaragua could be exacerbated by Hurricane Eta’s recent effects there, resulting in significant to potentially catastrophic impacts, caution experts.

Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Guatemala, southern Belize are expected to receive 8 to 16 inches (200 to 400 mm) of rainfall through Friday morning. Isolated maximum totals of 20-30 inches (500 to 750 mm) will be possible, especially from northeast Nicaragua into northern Honduras. Costa Rica and Panama may experience 4 to 8 inches (100 to 200 mm) of rainfall, with isolated maximum totals of 12 inches (300 mm). This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain.

While 3 to 5 inches (75 to 125 mm) of rainfall are expected in El Salvador and southern Nicaragua, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches (250 mm), Northern Colombia may get an additional 1 to 3 inches (25 to 75 mm) of rain, with isolated maximum totals near 12 inches (300 mm). “Swells generated by Iota will affect much of the coast of Central America, the Yucatan Peninsula, Jamaica, and Colombia during the next couple of days. These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the NHC predicts. 

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