Storm clouds as Hurricane Iota approaches, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on November 16 2020. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE CABRERA
Storm clouds as Hurricane Iota approaches, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on November 16 2020. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE CABRERA

Boston — Hurricane Iota slammed into Central America late on Monday with ferocious winds and rain, threatening to cripple a region already reeling from a deadly storm two weeks ago.

Iota, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a record-setting season, came ashore along Nicaragua’s northeastern coast as a category 4 hurricane, and is moving westward with winds of 169km/h. It’s likely to trigger deadly mudslides and a humanitarian crisis, just weeks after Hurricane Eta killed more than 100 people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate.

“A significant storm surge of 1.5m to 3m is still likely occurring” along the coast of Nicaragua, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC)  said Tuesday in an update at 4am New York time. “In addition to the destructive winds and storm surge, there will be the potential for up to 76cm of rainfall.”

Iota is now a category 2 hurricane, and additional weakening is forecast for the next 36 hours as it moves farther inland over the rugged terrain of Nicaragua and Honduras. Yet life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding is expected through to Thursday across parts of Central America.

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez said officials lost contact with the island of Providencia off Nicaragua. He said the country’s army and navy are standing by to mount rescue operations as soon as the storm has passed.

Iota is the 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year, a record. The hyperactive hurricane season is part of a string of natural disasters in 2020, including deadly wildfires in the western US and a derecho that left wreckage from Iowa to Indiana. They are further evidence that the Earth’s climate is changing, threatening to bring more widespread devastation.

“The storm should make us reflect on what is happening and what has become the most vulnerable region in the world to climate change due to the effects of large industrial nations, but we suffer the consequences,” Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei said at a meeting with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, calling for green funds for climate change.

“It’s not fair for us to continue going into debt to rebuild our countries and repair damage to infrastructure and agriculture.”

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 earlier reached category 5 strength, the first storm to do so this late in the year, he said.

Iota could create additional problems for coffee and sugar crops in the region, which were drenched by heavy rains and flooding from Eta two weeks ago, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Maxar. Honduras is the top coffee grower in the region, followed by Guatemala, which is the biggest cane sugar exporter in the area and a key global supplier of the sweetener.

Guatemala’s ports have already slowed due to heavy rains and an ongoing La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific, and Iota “could complicate” things, Michael McDougall, MD for Paragon Global Markets, said in a note.

Thousands have already been evacuated in Honduras and Nicaragua, and Guatemala is preparing emergency food kits. So many systems have formed in the Atlantic this year that the NHC used up its official name list in mid-September and resorted to using Greek letters to designate tropical cyclones.


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