Forecasters’ fears have been realized, and Hurricane Iota has morphed into a monster today.
Iota had strengthened to a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds as of Monday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, and was on track to make landfall in Central America late tonight.
Nicaragua and Honduras look to take a direct hit again, less than two weeks after Category 4 Hurricane Eta targeted the same area.
With the latest update Iota becomes the strongest hurricane — and only Category 5 — of the 30 named storms of 2020 in the Atlantic.
As of 9 a.m. CST Monday, Category 5 Hurricane Iota was located about 40 miles west of the Colombian island of Providencia, or 100 miles east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and was moving west at 9 mph.
The hurricane center said Iota should remain a Category 5 hurricane up until landfall. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles.
Iota could bring a deadly storm surge of 15 to 20 feet to the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras. That’s an increase from the 12-18 feet expected in earlier forecasts.
Ten to 20 inches of rain will also be possible in areas hard-hit by flooding and landslides from Eta, including Nicaragua and Honduras and also Guatemala and southern Belize. Some areas could get a storm total of 30 inches of rain.
“Catastrophic” wind damage is expected where Iota’s eye comes onshore, the hurricane center said, and hurricane conditions will reach Central America by tonight.
* A hurricane warning is in effect for the Colombian 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 is in effect for the Colombian island of San Andres.
* A tropical storm warning is in effect for San Andres, 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 the Bay Islands.
Iota is expected to weaken quickly after landfall and dissipate over Central America by midweek.
It is no threat to the U.S.
There are no other named storms being tracked in the Atlantic as of Monday morning.
Tropical Storm Theta, in the eastern Atlantic, was ruled a post-tropical system on Sunday, but there’s a new area that may need to be watched this week.
The hurricane center is expecting a new tropical wave to develop in the same region where Iota is now.
It has a chance to gradually develop later this week as it tracks westward in the Caribbean.
It has a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next five days.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.