Hurricane Iota overnight intensified into a formidable hurricane over the waters of the southwest Caribbean, and is expected to continue to rapidly intensify Sunday though Monday, becoming a catastrophic major hurricane that will make landfall near the Nicaragua/Honduras border on Monday night. Iota will likely bring catastrophic rains of 8-16 inches, with isolated amounts of 20-30 inches, to portions of Central America still recovering from devastating Hurricane Eta, which hit northern Nicaragua as a category 4 storm with 140 mph winds on November 3.
Jeff Ernst, a freelance journalist based in Honduras who’s covering the hurricanes and their aftermath on the ground for The Guardian and other outlets, expressed in an email his concerns that that nation is unprepared for another megastorm like Iota. “I’m worried that many levees have been destroyed, dams are at capacity, and there is still a lot of standing water that’s up to the rooftops in spots,” he wrote. “I would think because of those factors it would take less water than during Hurricane Eta to do as much or more damage – though Iota will flood some of the places that are already destroyed.” Damage estimates for Eta’s impact on Honduras are as high as $5 billion – over 20% of the nation’s GDP.
Ernst wrote a Sunday morning article in The Guardian on the threat climate change poses to Central America, including the potential for more severe hurricanes.
10 rapidly intensifying Atlantic storms in 2020 tie record
Iota is the tenth 2020 Atlantic named storm to rapidly intensify by at least 35 mph in 24 hours; six out of the last seven “Greek” named storms have rapidly intensified, with only Theta missing the mark:
Hurricane Hanna, July 24–25, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Laura, August 26–27, 65 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Sally, September 14–15, 40 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Teddy, September 17–18, 45 mph in 24 hours;
Tropical Storm Gamma, October 2-3, 35 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Delta, October 5–6, 80 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Epsilon, October 20–21, 50 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Zeta, October 27-28, 45 mph in 24 hours;
Hurricane Eta, November 1-2, 70 mph in 24 hours; and
Hurricane Iota, November 14-15, 50 mph in 24 hours.
According to statistics compiled by Tomer Berg, only in 1995 had 10 rapidly intensifying Atlantic storms occurred in a single year.
Iota is the 13th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, putting this year behind only 2005, which had 15 hurricanes, for most hurricanes in a season. If Iota becomes a major hurricane, 2020 would be the first Atlantic hurricane season ever to record two major hurricanes in November. Hurricane Eta was the other major hurricane of November.
At 10 a.m. EST Sunday, Iota was 335 miles east-southeast of the Nicaragua/Honduras border, headed west-northwest at 9 mph. Iota at that point was a high-end category 1 hurricane with top winds of 90 mph, and a central pressure of 978 mb. An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter Aircraft was en route to Iota late Sunday morning to provide a detailed assessment of the hurricane’s strength.
Satellite imagery early Sunday afternoon showed Iota was an impressive and rapidly intensifying hurricane, with an eye surrounded by a solid eyewall with heavy thunderstorms having very cold cloud tops. Upper-level outflow was good to excellent in all quadrants, and was steadily expanding.
Track forecast for Iota
The track forecast for Iota is straightforward. A ridge of high pressure to Iota’s north will force the hurricane on a westerly to west-northwesterly track at 7-10 mph until landfall occurs near the Nicaragua/Honduras border on Monday night. At that point, steering currents are predicted to shift, putting Iota on a more westerly to west-southwesterly path deep into Central America. Dissipation is expected to occur about two days after landfall, when Iota will be over El Salvador, near the Pacific coast. Iota is not expected to regenerate over the Pacific Ocean, and there is no model support indicating that Iota might move northward into the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the U.S., as so many other storms this year have done.
Intensity forecast for Iota
The intensity forecast from the National Hurricane Center at 10 a.m. EST Sunday continued to be aggressive, calling for Iota to rapidly intensify from 90 mph to 140 mph winds in just 36 hours.
Conditions for development will be very favorable for development through landfall, with the SHIPS model predicting light wind shear less than 10 knots, warm sea surface temperatures of 28.5-29 degrees Celsius (83-84°F), and a moist atmosphere with a mid-level relative humidity of 70%. The 12Z Sunday SHIPS model gave a 46% chance that Iota would follow the NHC intensity forecast and become a category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds within 36 hours – 10 times the climatological mean odds. The model gave a 22% chance that Iota would become a category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds within 72 hours.
These conditions are very similar to what Hurricane Eta experienced while rapidly intensifying as it approached landfall in Nicaragua nearly two weeks ago. Although Iota will be passing over the same part of the Caribbean traversed by Eta, the sea surface temperature has not cooled much, remaining about 0.5°C above average.
Typhoon Vamco makes landfall in typhoon-weary Vietnam
Typhoon Vamco made landfall near 6Z (1 a.m. EST) Sunday, November 15, in northern Vietnam. Vamco was a category 1 storm with 80 mph winds at landfall, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Vamco is the 10th landfall of a tropical cyclone in Vietnam in 2020, as classified by the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Vamco on Wednesday had hit the Philippines as a category 2 storm with 110 mph winds, killing at least 67 people.
Theta, now post-tropical, dies
Tropical Storm Theta became post-tropical on Sunday over the waters about 670 miles southeast of the Azores Islands, as a result of dry air, high wind shear, and cold waters. Before Theta expired, it reached the most easterly location ever recorded for a named storm in the Atlantic so late in the year (see Tweet by Sam Lillo).
Posted on November 15, 2020(12:30pm EST).