On November 17, 2020, the strongest hurricane to make landfall this year slammed into the coast of Nicaragua. Hurricane Iota made landfall at 10:40 p.m. EDT as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph (250 kph) along the northeastern coast of Nicaragua near the town of Haulover, about 30 miles (45 km) south of Puerto Cabezas. Hurricane Iota’s landfall location was approximately 15 miles (25 km) south of where Category 4 Hurricane Eta made landfall on November 3.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of the large storm on November 17 after Iota had moved well inland and begun to weaken.
As of 2100 UTC local time (4:00 p.m. EST) on November 17, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported Iota was located inland at about 75 miles (125 km) east southeast of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Maximum sustained winds had weakened to 60 mph (95 km/h) and the storm continued to move westward. Forecasters warned of coastal storm surges as high as 4.5 to 6 meters (15 to 20 feet) and rainfall amounts between 250 to 750 millimeters (10 to 30 inches) across parts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.
According to Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) reports, strong winds and heavy rainfall have damaged several buildings across Puerto Cabezas. More than 70,000 inhabitants of Nicaragua have been evacuated to 1,299 shelters. At least 50,000 people have been evacuated in Honduras. Several news outlets are reporting that Iota has left at least three people dead and significant damage in parts of Nicaragua already reeling from Hurricane Eta’s landfall less than two weeks ago. However, widespread power outages and communication disruptions in the country from Eta’s passage – and with still-heavy rains and storm surge drenching the county – damage assessments may be delayed.
Iota is the strongest hurricane and 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic season, the most since modern record-keeping began. (The previous record of 28 was set in 2005.) It also marked the first time that two hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic in any November. Iota is the 13th storm to reach hurricane strength this year; the average hurricane year brings 11.5 named storms and six hurricanes.
Tropical storm Iota reached hurricane strength early on November 15. Over the course of 36 hours, wind speeds increased by 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour—well beyond the threshold of 55 kilometers (35 miles) per hour that meteorologists refer to as “rapid intensification.” The storm grew over particularly warm Caribbean waters, which are known to fuel hurricanes. La Niña conditions in the eastern Pacific may also have played a role, as such events typically reduce wind shear that can break up storms. Iota is the tenth storm to undergo rapid intensification in 2020.