Extremely dangerous Hurricane “Iota” forecast to strike Nicaragua with powerful winds and extreme rain


Tropical Storm "Iota" formed in the Central Caribbean at 21:00 UTC on November 13, 2020, as the 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. It rapidly strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane on November 16 and is now threatening Central America — ravaged by Category 4 Hurricane "Eta" earlier this month — with potentially catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge, and extreme rainfall.

  • Iota is expected to continue to rapidly intensify and could possibly be a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches the coast of Central America tonight, NHC forecasters warned.
  • Extreme 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.
  • Hurricane conditions and storm surge impacts are likely on Providencia today. Tropical storm conditions are expected and hurricane conditions are possible on San Andres.
  • Through Thursday, 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.

At 09:00 UTC on November 16, the center of Hurricane "Iota" was located about 40 km (25 miles) NE of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, and 275 km (170 miles) SE of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua/Honduras border.

Iota had maximum sustained winds of 230 km/h (145 mph), minimum central pressure of 933 hPa, and was moving W at 17 km/h (10 mph).

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Providencia, the coast of Nicaragua from the Honduras/Nicaragua border to Sandy Bay Sirpi, the coast of northeastern Honduras from Punta Patuca to the Honduras/Nicaragua border.

A Hurricane Watch 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.

On the forecast track, the core of Hurricane "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 tonight (EST).

A westward to WNW motion is forecast through landfall.

Hurricane "Iota" at 09:40 UTC on November 16, 2020. Credit: NOAA/GOES-East, RAMMB/CIRA

Hurricane "Iota" at 09:40 UTC on November 16, 2020. Credit: NOAA/GOES-East, RAMMB/CIRA

Hurricane "Iota" at 09:40 UTC on November 16, 2020. Credit: NOAA/GOES-East, RAMMB/CIRA

"Iota has explosively deepened 26 hPa during the past 6 hours and has rapidly intensified an incredible 35 knots (65 km/h / 40 mph) during that same time," NHC forecaster Stewart noted at 09:00 UTC today. 

"An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft and aircrew that flew the arduous, 10-hour round-trip mission into Iota reported a maximum 700-hPa flight-level wind speed of 134 knots (250 km/h / 155 mph) and peak SFMR surface winds of 121 knots (225 km/h / 140 mph), which supports the initial intensity of 125 knots (230 km/h / 145 mph), making Iota a strong Category 4 hurricane."

Furthermore, the pressure fell an amazing 10 hPa from 945 hPa down to 935 hPa in a little over an hour between those two fixes. The crew also encountered intense lightning and hail in the southwestern quadrant, where recent remote data indicate that frequent lightning is still occurring.

The aircrew reported that the eye was around 28 km (17 miles) wide, and the latest GOES-16 hi-resolution infrared satellite imagery confirms that the eye diameter, and that the eye has cleared out with continued warming eye temperatures and cooling surrounding cloud tops.

"Iota is expected to remain in environmental conditions characterized by near-zero vertical wind shear, sea surface temperatures near 29 °C, and a moist mid-level environment," Stewart added.

"The combination of these factors plus the relatively small radius of maximum winds (RMW) of about 18 km (11 miles), argues for continued rapid strengthening right up until landfall occurs, and Iota could be near Category 5 strength at that time."

"After landfall, rapid weakening is expected over the rugged terrain of Nicaragua and Honduras. Iota is forecast to become a tropical storm by 36 hours, and degenerate into a post-tropical remnant low by 60 hours, if not sooner."

Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Guatemala, southern Belize can expect 200 to 400 mm (8 to 16 inches), according to the NHC. Isolated maximum totals of 500 to 750 mm (20 – 30 inches) will be possible, especially from northeast Nicaragua into northern Honduras.

Costa Rica and Panama can expect 100 to 200 mm (4 to 8 inches), with isolated maximum totals of 300 mm (12 inches). This rainfall will lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain.

75 to 125 mm (3 to 5 inches) of rain is forecast for El Salvador and southern Nicaragua, with isolated maximum totals of 250 mm (10 inches).

Potentially catastrophic wind damage is expected where Iota's eyewall moves onshore within the Hurricane Warning area in Nicaragua and Honduras beginning late tonight with tropical storm conditions expected by late morning. 

Hurricane conditions are likely occurring on the island of Providencia, with tropical storm conditions expected through the remainder of this morning and possibly into the early afternoon. Tropical storm conditions are likely occurring on the island of San Andres, with hurricane conditions possible there later this morning.

Tropical storm conditions are expected in the Tropical Storm Warning area in Nicaragua by late afternoon and in the warning area in Honduras by tonight.

A life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 4.6 m (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.

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.

"Iota is the 13th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to date," Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at the CSU, said. "Only one other Atlantic hurricane season on record has had more than 12 hurricanes — 2005, 15 hurricanes."

"Iota is only the second Atlantic hurricane to reach Category 4 intensity this late in the calendar year on record." The other is Lenny in 1999.

It is also the 6th major hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to date. 2020 is now tied with 1926, 1933, 1950, 1996, 2004 and 2017 for the 2nd-most major hurricanes in an Atlantic season on record. 2005 had 7 major hurricanes.

"For the first time on record, the Atlantic has had two major hurricane formations in November — Eta and Iota."

When Iota formed on November 13 (30th named storm of the season), it tied 2020 with 1931, 1961, 2001, and 2005 for the most Atlantic named storm on record to form in November. The old Atlantic single-season named storm record was 28 named storms set in 2005.

Iota is also the 5th Caribbean named storm formation since October 1, along with Gamma, Delta, Zeta, and Eta. 

"The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is now tied with 2005 for the most Caribbean named storm formations after October 1 on record," Klotzbach said.

"Zero Atlantic hurricane seasons on record have had two major hurricane formations in November."

Featured image credit: Hurricane "Iota" at 09:40 UTC on November 16, 2020. Credit: NOAA/GOES-East, RAMMB/CIRA


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