Iota strengthened to hurricane status Sunday, taking furious aim for Central American countries still reeling from Hurricane Eta’s devastating landfall that killed more than 120 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless less than two weeks ago.
Iota became the 13th hurricane of the season, two shy of the record 15 set in 2005 but the record-breaking 30th named storm of this historic hurricane season.
Iota was a Category 1 hurricane Sunday morning with sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph, its center located about 335 miles east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border.
“Rapid strengthening is expected,” said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center. “Iota is forecast to be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane when it approaches Central America.”
The core of Iota was forecast to move across the Caribbean on Sunday and approach the coasts of northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras late Monday.
Eta was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in Nicaragua on Nov. 3 before tearing a wide path of destruction through Honduras and Guatemala the next day. Entire communities remain underwater.
The death toll Honduras alone was estimated at more than 50, with damage from the torrential rains, catastrophic flooding and devastating landslides estimated at more than $5 billion. Tent cities line many streets where homes remain unlivable.
“It is possible that Iota could track north of Honduras, allowing the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Eta to be spared,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller. “But it’s even more likely that Honduras and Nicaragua take a direct hit from Iota.”
Nicaragua and Honduras issued hurricane warnings amid concerns that some already sodden areas of those nations could be swamped by a storm surge of up to 15 feet and rainfall totals of up to 3 feet.
“This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain,” Brown said.
Iota’s name marks the deepest the NHC has ever gotten into the Greek alphabet during one storm season. Just days ago, 2020 set the record for the most storms to be named in one Atlantic hurricane season with Theta, number 29. Theta has eased to tropical depression status, drifting in an area between the Azores and Canary Islands.