Deadly Iota lashes Nicaragua, Honduras after record-setting landfall

By Brian Lada & Mark Puleo, AccuWeather & UPI Staff,
Iota weakened to a tropical storm by Tuesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of NOAA
Iota weakened to a tropical storm by Tuesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Government officials in Central America blamed at least eight deaths on Iota on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after it made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm.

Just as the coastal region began making strides in its recovery from Eta, which hit the country two weeks ago, Iota brewed up even stronger impacts and slammed the same communities with 155-mph winds at Monday night's landfall, the strongest tropical cyclone of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Making landfall at 10:40 p.m. EST Monday, Iota's maximum sustained winds were just 2 mph shy of Category 5 status.


By Tuesday night, as the center of Iota barged inland across Nicaragua and into Honduras, it had weakened to a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 mph and was spreading heavy rainfall across Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Guatemala.


In its 12 a.m. Wednesday advisory, the National Hurricane Center located Iota about 25 miles northeast of El Papalon, El Salvador, as it moved westward at 12 mph.

"On the forecast track, the center of Iota will move across southern Honduras and El Salvador before the system dissipates later today," it said. "Rapid weakening is forecast, and Iota should weaken to a tropical depression later this morning and degenerate into a remnant low pressure area by this afternoon."

The government of Honduras has discontinued the Tropical Storm Watch from Punta Castilla eastward to the Honduras/Nicaragua border, though one is still in effect for the country's coast was of Punta Castilla to the border with Guatemala and for the Bay Islands.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo announced Tuesday that the storm had killed four adults and two minors and Colombian President Ivan Duque also said two people were killed and a third was still missing, CNN reported.

The pair of November hurricanes marked the first time on record that two major hurricanes made landfall in Nicaragua in the same season, further devastating the saturated nation that was still flooded from Eta, a storm that claimed at least 130 lives.


Philip Klotzbach, a scientist at Colorado State University, tweeted that Iota was the strongest November hurricane on record to make landfall in Nicaragua, surpassing Eta.

The humanitarian crisis that was set into motion after Eta's feet of rainfall will be severely compounded by Iota's torrential rainfall. AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers warned before Iota crashed onshore that the back-to-back hurricane landfalls may cause "one of the worst floods in some of these areas in a thousand years or more," since the ground was still saturated from Eta when Iota lashed the region. The mountainous terrain will further play into the disaster unfolding, adding to the dangers of significant flooding and mudslides.

Conditions deteriorated along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and Honduras during the day Monday as Iota approached as a Category 5 storm with lashing winds and rising storm surge.


AccuWeather forecasters are projecting catastrophic damage across northern Nicaragua and throughout much of Honduras from Iota with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 30 inches of rain.

Sustained winds were whipping at 160 mph Monday evening with higher gusts, according to the hurricane hunters who flew a mission through the eye of the storm. Hours before landfall, the center of Iota was situated about 30 miles east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, the same area where Hurricane Eta blasted onshore less than two weeks ago.

Shortly before landfall on Monday night, Iota lost a slight bit of wind intensity and became a strong Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 mph.

Iota's landfall marks only the second time in history that two hurricanes have made landfall in Nicaragua in one season. The only other time that this occurred was in 1971 when Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Edith crashed ashore.

AccuWeather has rated Iota as a 5 on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes, which takes into account factors including wind speed, flooding rain, storm surge and economic damage and loss.

"This is a catastrophic situation unfolding for northeastern Nicaragua," the National Hurricane Center said. "Hurricane Iota's landfall location is approximately 15 miles south of where Category 4 hurricane Eta made landfall earlier this month." Eta made landfall near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph on Nov. 3.


The back-to-back strikes could cause the humanitarian crisis in Nicaragua and Honduras to worsen, Myers said. "Some of these countries may not completely recover for five to 10 years."

Before Iota neared Central America, heavy tropical downpours associated with the storm caused significant disruptions in Colombia. Homes were submerged in some communities in northern Colombia, stranding residents on their roofs while waiting for help to arrive. At least three fatalities were reported in Colombia due to flooding and mudslides.

The substantial damage caused in Nicaragua and Honduras could lead to an uptick in the wholesale price of coffee as the two countries lead Central America in coffee production, accounting for around 8 percent of the world's coffee output.

With Iota reaching Category 5 force on Monday, it makes 2020 the fifth consecutive year in which there has been a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin. Matthew began the pattern in 2016, and Irma and Maria continued the trend in 2017, followed by Michael in 2018, and Dorian and Lorenzo in 2019. This is the longest streak of consecutive years with a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since records began.

Iota rapidly intensified over a 24-hour period to reach Category 5 status. In this 24-hour window, maximum winds spiked from 90 mph to 160 mph and the lowest barometric pressure in the eye of the storm plummeted a staggering 1.8 inches of mercury (61 millibars). The drop in pressure alone is more than twice what is required for a winter storm to be called a "bomb cyclone," which is usually a drop of 0.71 of an inch of mercury (24 millibars) in 24 hours. This is the fourth time that a hurricane this season rapidly intensified and one of the most extreme intensifications on record, according to meteorologist Sam Lillo.


Even after reaching Category 5 status, the highest and most extreme classification for a hurricane, NOAA's GOES-East weather satellite continued to detect lightning in the eye of the storm an indication that the hurricane was still strengthening at the time.

Iota became the sixth major hurricane of the season, or a hurricane that has reached Category 3 status or greater on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, and it follows Laura, Teddy, Delta, Epsilon and Eta. However, it is not out of the question that another storm could make this exclusive list before the end of 2020.

"Another tropical wave will enter the southern and western Caribbean later this week and could become another named tropical system by the weekend before heading, once again, for Central America," AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski explained.

The next name on the Atlantic hurricane list, now well into the Greek alphabet, is Kappa.

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