Iota, which formed on Friday at sea, was centered in the Caribbean on 440 miles east-southeast of the Nicaraguan-Honduran border with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph at 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, the US National Hurricane Center reported. It is expected to strengthen rapidly over the next 24 hours.
Iota – the 13th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season – is expected to continue to move west and make landfall somewhere in Central America, potentially near the Honduras-Nicaragua border by Monday evening or Tuesday morning. CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said.
According to the NHC, the storm is expected to reach or near the force majeure hurricane before making landfall across Central America. A major hurricane is a hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph.
Nicaragua has issued a hurricane warning from Sandy Bay Sirpi to the border with Honduras, and Honduras has issued a hurricane warning from the Nicaraguan border to Punta Patuca.
In addition to providing damaging winds, Iota could drop 8 to 16 inches of rain over Honduras, northern Nicaragua, eastern Guatemala and southern Belize through Thursday, NHC said – bad news for an area hit by Hurricane Eta last week.
Costa Rica, Panama and northern Colombia could receive 4 to 8 inches of rain through Thursday, while El Salvador and southern Nicaragua could get 2 to 4 inches during the same period, a declared the NHC.
The Colombian government issued a tropical storm warning for the islands of San Andres and Providencia on Saturday.
“This (Iota) precipitation would cause flash floods and significant and potentially fatal flooding, as well as landslides in areas of higher ground,” NHC said.
Iota is the 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year – the strongest for a hurricane season in the Atlantic.
Central America devastated by Hurricane Eta
Eta passed through northern Nicaragua on November 3 as a Category 4 hurricane, and pounded that country along with Honduras, Guatemala and Belize for days with heavy rains. It has caused landslides and severe flooding and left dozens dead or missing.
Eta’s full damage range probably won’t be known for a while. But the powerful storm, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, may be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region.
More than 3.6 million people in Central America have been affected by the storm to varying degrees, the Red Cross said earlier this week.
Even before the storm, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala had poor public health systems battling Covid-19.
With thousands of people in shelters and hard-to-walk social distances, many fear the disease could spread. Hospitals there are also struggling with other storm and flood related illnesses, from dengue fever to cholera to yellow fever.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Matt Rivers, Natalie Gallón and Taylor Ward contributed to this report.