Hurricane Iota strengthens to a maximum Category 5 storm, set to hit Central America

A dog eats from the rubble of houses in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on Nov 15, 2020.
A dog eats from the rubble of houses in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on Nov 15, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (BLOOMBERG, AFP) – Hurricane Iota strengthened into a “catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane and was set to slam into Central America later on Monday (Nov 16), threatening areas devastated by tropical storm Eta two weeks ago, the US National Hurricane Centre warned. 

Iota was “forecast to bring catastrophic wind, life-threatening storm surge and torrential rainfall” to parts of Honduras and Nicaragua, the centre said.

The storm will hit near the Honduras-Nicaragua border, the  NHC said, pummeling a region devastated by Hurricane Eta, which killed more than 100 people.

Iota is the 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year, a record, and  is set to make landfall as the Atlantic’s strongest storm of the year. 

Iota’s winds reached 160 miles (257 kilometres) per hour on Monday morning local time. A hurricane that powerful can crush homes, snap trees and make areas uninhabitable for months. 

Th storm could drop 50cm of rain on the region. 

"Iota is forecast to continue to be a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches Central America tonight (Tuesday morning Singapore time), and rapid weakening is expected after landfall,” Eric Blake, a meteorologist at the NHC, wrote in his outlook.

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

The hyperactive hurricane season is part of a string of natural disasters in 2020, including deadly wildfires in the western US and a derecho wind storm that left wreckage from Iowa to Indiana.

They’re further evidence that the Earth’s climate is changing, threatening to bring more widespread devastation.  This is the first time the Atlantic has produced two major hurricanes – Category 3 or stronger – in November, according to a tweet by Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal forecast. 

Iota is the first storm to reach Category 5 strength so late in the year, he said.

It won't matter at this point if Iota gets to Category 5 or even weakens a little before it comes ashore, because disastrous effects are almost inevitable, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at commercial forecaster AccuWeather.

"This is a humanitarian disaster in the making," Kottlowski said. "Once a storm gets to 155 mph, it doesn't matter what you call it, it is a massive death producer."

So many systems have formed in the Atlantic this year that the National Hurricane Centre used up its official name list in mid-September and resorted to using Greek letters to designate tropical cyclones. There is a 30 per cent chance another storm could develop off the coast of Central America in five days.