Iota reached the northeastern Nicaragua coast Monday evening with peak winds estimated at 160 mph, the first Category 5 hurricane of this record-breaking season and the second major hurricane to strike that Central American region in the last two weeks.
The National Hurricane Center warned of a potentially catastrophic storm surge and cosmically heavy rains 10 to 20 inches, with as much as 30 in isolated areas.
Iota’s landfall appeared to be about 35 miles from that of Category 4 Hurricane Eta made landfall two weeks ago and killed more than 100 people, scores of them reportedly entombed in a Guatemalan landslide.
Upwards of a million people were affected by Eta, the relief agency Mercy Corps said Monday.
“The soil is completely saturated and the land is still unstable,” said Miriam Aguilar, Mercy Corps' representative in Guatemala.
What’s more, she added, with over 17,500 in Guatemalan shelters, “The risk of COVID-19 spreading will only increase as more seek refuge in shelters.”
Iota is the fourth “major” hurricane — those with winds of 111 mph or more — to form since Oct. 1. No other season on record had more than two.
November hadn’t produced a Category 5 hurricane since 1932. With peak winds better than 170 mph, that one, which affected Cuba, was even more potent that Iota, said Philip Klotzbach, hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.
Iota was forecast to wind power rapidly after making landfall, but the storm “will likely lead to life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding across portions of Central America,” the hurricane center said.
Iota is the record 30th “named” storm — those with winds of 39 mph or better — of the 2020 hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The previous record was 28, set in 2005.