(Bloomberg) – Hurricane Iota is expected to hit Central America as the strongest Atlantic storm of the year on Monday, bringing catastrophic winds and torrential rains to an area still reeling from a storm ago at two weeks.
It will strike near the Honduras-Nicaragua border after 8 p.m. New York time, coming about two weeks after Hurricane Eta, which killed more than 100 people. Iota’s winds are 160 miles (257 kilometers) per hour, making it a Category 5 storm – the strongest on Saffir Simpson’s five-stage scale, the National Hurricane Center said. Such a powerful hurricane can crush homes, smash trees, and leave areas uninhabitable for months.
Iota could drop 20 inches of rain and push ocean level to about 20 feet above normal. The storm was 80 miles off the Nicaraguan coast on Monday afternoon, moving at 9 miles per hour.
“It remains a catastrophic situation for northeastern Nicaragua,” Eric Blake, a forecaster at the center, wrote in his 4pm outlook. New York time. “Extreme winds and a potentially fatal storm surge are expected along parts of the northern coast of Nicaragua.”
Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez said officials had lost contact with the island of Providencia, off the coast of Nicaragua. The country’s military and navy are ready to mount rescue operations as soon as the storm passes, he said.
Iota is the 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year, a record. The overactive hurricane season is part of a series of natural disasters in 2020, including deadly wildfires in the western United States and a derecho that left wrecks from Iowa to Indiana. They are further evidence that Earth’s climate is changing, threatening to cause more widespread devastation.
This is the first time the Atlantic has produced two major hurricanes – Category 3 or more – in November, according to a tweet from Phil Klotzbach, senior author of the seasonal forecast at Colorado State University. Iota is the first storm to reach Category 5 so late in the year, he said.
Iota could create additional problems for the region’s coffee and sugar crops, which were inundated by heavy rains and flooding in Eta two weeks ago, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist at business forecaster Maxar. Honduras is the region’s largest coffee producer, followed by Guatemala, which is the region’s largest cane sugar exporter and a key sweetener supplier to the world.
Guatemala’s ports have already slowed due to heavy rains and the La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, and Iota “could complicate” matters, Michael McDougall, managing director of Paragon Global Markets, said in an email.
While Iota’s winds can fluctuate as it comes ashore, that won’t really matter as extensive damage is inevitable now, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at business forecaster AccuWeather Inc.
“This is a humanitarian disaster in the making,” Kottlowski said.
Thousands of people have already evacuated in Honduras and Nicaragua, and Guatemala is preparing emergency food kits. The storm will ravage coastal areas with high winds and a deadly storm surge before knocking down floodable rains across the mountains of Central America for the next four days. So many systems have formed in the Atlantic this year that the National Hurricane Center exhausted its list of names in mid-September and resorted to the use of Greek letters to denote tropical cyclones. There is a 40% chance that another storm will develop off the coast of Central America in five days.
(Updates with the Colombian President’s statement in the fifth paragraph.)
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