Hurricane Iota Path, Tracker as 'Life-Threatening' Storm Surge to Hit Central America

Hurricane Iota is "expected to bring catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge and torrential rainfall to Central America," the National Hurricane Center warned on Monday.

The NHC forecasts Iota to remain a "catastrophic category 5 hurricane" as it approaches Central America. Rapid weakening is expected after it makes landfall in northeastern Nicaragua on Monday evening, before dissipating over Central America by Wednesday.

Maximum sustained winds were reported to be near 160 mph (miles per hour) with higher
gusts. "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.

"This is a catastrophic situation unfolding for northeastern Nicaragua with an extreme storm surge of 15-20 ft [feet] forecast along with destructive winds and potentially 30 inches of rainfall.

"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," the NHC noted.

A hurricane warning, which indicates sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected in a given area, is in place for: the island of Providencia; the coast of Nicaragua from the Honduras/Nicaragua border to Sandy Bay Sirpi; and the coast of northeastern Honduras from Punta Patuca to the Honduras/Nicaragua border.

A "hurricane watch" announcement, which means sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible, has been issued for the Colombian island of San Andrés.

A tropical storm warning is in place for: San Andrés; 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; and Bay Islands. Tropical storm conditions are expected in these areas within the next 36 hours.

#Iota has become a category 5 hurricane and is forecast to bring catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge, and torrential rainfall to Central America. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/w6oof46Ley

— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) November 16, 2020

The storm surge is expected to raise water levels by a maximum of 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels along parts of the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, "accompanied by large and destructive waves."

"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," the NHC warned.

Rainfall is expected to reach 10 to 20 inches in Honduras, northern Nicaragua, southeast Guatemala and southern Belize, with isolated maximum totals of 30 inches possible.

Costa Rica and Panama are expected to witness rainfall of four to eight inches, with isolated maximum totals of 12 inches.

"This rainfall will lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain," the NHC said.

The hurricane season in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Central Pacific basin lasts from June 1 to November 30. It runs from May 15 to November 30 in the Eastern Pacific basin.

Last week, Subtropical Storm Theta set a new record for the most named storms in a hurricane season in the U.S. It marked the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, breaking the previous record set in the 2005 season which saw 27 named storms.

La Lima, Honduras, Hurricane Iota, November 2020
View of empty streets after locals in La Lima, Honduras, evacuate their homes before the arrival of Hurricane Iota on November 15, which is expected to bring a "life-threatening" storm surge to parts of Central America. Yoseph Amaya/Getty Images