Hurricane Iota Strengthens Into First Category 5 of 2020 Hurricane Season

Hurricane Iota became the strongest tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin for 2020, rapidly strengthening into a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane in the last 24 hours. Iota is moving closer to Nicaragua, making landfall in nearly the exact location Hurricane Eta made landfall two weeks ago as a major Category 4 hurricane.

With Iota’s new strength, this hurricane is now the Atlantic’s latest calendar year Category 5 hurricane on record, breaking the 1932 Cuba Hurricane on November 8th. Iota is also the first Greek alphabet Atlantic named storm to reach Category 5 intensity on record.

Iota is forecast to be a major blow to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, still recovering from the devastating impact of Eta two weeks ago. Rainfall totals between 20 to 30 inches are possible. This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain. Catastrophic storm surge and wind damage are expected on the Nicaraguan coast when Iota makes landfall.

This tropical cyclone is not forecast to impact Trinidad, Tobago, or the Lesser Antilles.

List of names for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The next named tropical cyclone will be called Kappa.
List of names for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The next named tropical cyclone will be called Kappa.

At 2:00 PM AST, the center of Hurricane Iota was located by an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft near latitude 13.5 North, longitude 82.3 West. Iota is moving toward the west near 9 mph (15 km/h), and this general motion is forecast through landfall. After landfall, a westward to west-southwestward motion is expected. On the forecast track, the core of Iota will make landfall within the hurricane warning area in northeastern Nicaragua tonight, and will dissipate over central America by Wednesday.

Maximum sustained winds remain near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts. Iota is forecast to continue to be a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches Central America tonight, and rapid weakening is expected after landfall.

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). The estimated minimum central pressure is 918 millibars based on Air Force reconnaissance data.

Hurricane Iota Forecast Track as of 2:00 PM AST Monday 16th November 2020. (National Hurricane Center)
Hurricane Iota Forecast Track as of 2:00 PM AST Monday 16th November 2020. (National Hurricane Center)

Watches & Warnings

Hurricane Iota Watches and Warnings as of 2:00 PM AST Monday 16th November 2020. (National Hurricane Center)
Hurricane Iota Watches and Warnings as of 2:00 PM AST Monday 16th November 2020. (National Hurricane Center)

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
  • The northern coast of Honduras from west of Punta Patuca to the Guatemala/Honduras border
  • Bay Islands

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. Preparations to protect life and property should have already been completed.

A Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area.

A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.

Interests elsewhere in Nicaragua and Honduras should monitor the progress of Iota.

For storm information specific to your area, please monitor products issued by your national meteorological service.

Hazards Affecting Land

Hurricane Iota probabilities for tropical-storm-force winds as of 11:00 AM AST Monday 16th November 2020, as well as the most likely time of arrival of tropical-storm-force winds. (National Hurricane Center)
Hurricane Iota probabilities for tropical-storm-force winds as of 11:00 AM AST Monday 16th November 2020, as well as the most likely time of arrival of tropical-storm-force winds. (National Hurricane Center)

STORM SURGE: A life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 15 to 20 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.

WIND: Catastrophic wind damage is expected where Iota’s eyewall moves onshore within the Hurricane Warning area in Nicaragua tonight with tropical storm conditions already ongoing. Hurricane conditions are likely occurring on the island of Providencia, with tropical storm conditions expected through this afternoon. Tropical storm conditions are occurring on the island of San Andres, with hurricane conditions possible. 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.

RAINFALL: Iota is expected to produce the following rainfall accumulations through Thursday:

  • Honduras, northern Nicaragua, southeast Guatemala and southern Belize: 10 to 20 inches (250 to 500 mm). Isolated maximum totals of 30 inches (750 mm) will be possible, especially from northeast Nicaragua into northern Honduras.
  • El Salvador and Panama: 4 to 8 inches (100 to 200 mm), with isolated maximum totals of 12 inches (300 mm).
  • Southern Nicaragua and Costa Rica: 3 to 5 inches (75 to 125 mm), with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches (250 mm).

This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain.

SURF: 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. Please consult products from your local weather office.

This system is of no direct threat to the Windward Islands, including Trinidad and Tobago.

Hurricane Iota Forecast Discussion

Hurricane Iota (Weathernerds.org)
Hurricane Iota (Weathernerds.org)

Iota is a very impressive hurricane, especially for this late in the year, with a distinct, warm eye on satellite images and a rather electrified eyewall from the GOES lightning detector. An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft found maximum 700-mb flight-winds of about 147 kt, with SFMR values of 140-145 kt, and a central pressure of about 917 mb. A blend of all these data leads to an initial wind speed of 140 kt, making Iota a category 5 hurricane, the latest category 5 on record for the Atlantic basin. A little more strengthening is possible today with fairly light shear and warm waters before Iota makes landfall tonight. Rapid weakening is anticipated over central America, and Iota should dissipate in a couple of days.

The hurricane is moving westward at 9 kt. This general motion with perhaps a slight gain in latitude is expected through tonight due to a large ridge of the high pressure to the north. After landfall, the cyclone should move a little faster, and dissipate over the higher terrain of central America. The new forecast is a little south of the previous one, mostly owing to the initial position.

This is a catastrophic situation unfolding for northeastern Nicaragua with an extreme storm surge of 15-20 ft forecast along with destructive winds and potentially 30 inches of rainfall, and it is exacerbated by the fact that it should make landfall in almost the exact same location that category 4 Hurricane Eta did about two weeks ago.

Key Messages:

  1. Iota is expected to remain a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches the coast of Nicaragua tonight. Extreme winds and a life-threatening storm surge are expected along portions of the coast of northeastern Nicaragua, where a hurricane warning is in effect.
  2. 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.
  3. Hurricane conditions and storm surge impacts are likely still occurring on Providencia. Tropical storm conditions are expected and hurricane conditions are possible on San Andres.

Forecast discussion by NHC Forecaster Blake.

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