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|Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||November 13, 2020|
|Dissipated||November 18, 2020|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 160 mph (260 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||917 mbar (hPa); 27.08 inHg|
|Fatalities||61 total; 41 missing|
|Damage||≥ $564 million (2020 USD)|
|Part of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Iota was the latest known Atlantic hurricane ever to attain Category 5 intensity, and only the second Category 5 Atlantic hurricane to exist within the month of November on record—the other being the 1932 Cuba hurricane. Iota caused severe damage to areas of Central America already devastated by Hurricane Eta just less than two weeks prior. The thirty-first tropical cyclone, thirtieth named storm, thirteenth hurricane, and sixth major hurricane of the record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Iota originated as a tropical wave that moved into the Eastern Caribbean on November 10. Over the next few days, the wave began to become better organized and by November 13, it developed into a tropical depression north of Colombia. The depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Iota six hours later. The storm was initially impacted by some wind shear, but a center relocation and relaxed shear allowed Iota to quickly strengthen into a hurricane on November 15, after which it underwent explosive intensification, becoming a Category 5 hurricane the following day. This made 2020 the fifth consecutive Atlantic hurricane season since 2016 to feature at least one Category 5 hurricane. After weakening slightly, Iota made landfall in northeastern Nicaragua as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, becoming the strongest recorded hurricane to make landfall in Nicaragua in November. Iota then rapidly weakened as it moved inland, dissipating on November 18.
The precursor wave to Iota generated flash flooding in most of the Caribbean islands. Tropical cyclone watches and warnings were first issued on November 14 in parts of Colombia, Nicaragua, and Honduras, with the latter two countries still recovering from Eta just two weeks prior. Heavy rains associated with a tropical wave and Iota brought heavy rainfall to parts of Colombia, leading to flash flooding and mudslides. Extremely heavy rain fell on much of Nicaragua widening flash flooding caused by the hurricane's high storm surge. Mudslides caused extensive damage and multiple deaths. At least 61 people were killed due to Iota including at least 28 in Nicaragua and 16 in Honduras, among other countries. As many as 41 people are currently missing. Damage totals for the storm are still being calculated, but a preliminary estimate in Nicaragua places the damage totals at $564 million (2020 USD) in that country.
Planning for relief efforts soon followed, which include placing tents, opening temporary hospitals, and delivering food and water to those in need. Numerous power outages were restored in the days following Iota's destruction. Downed trees and blocked paths have slowed down some rescue teams. Donations worth hundreds of millions of USD have been given to affected countries. An estimated total of 5.2 million people were affected by the storm, while hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.
At 18:00 UTC on November 8, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) began to monitor the Central Caribbean for a tropical wave forecasted to enter the area and potentially become a low-pressure area within a few days. The wave subsequently entered the Eastern Caribbean by 06:00 UTC on November 10 and moved westward into a more conducive environment for development. Late on November 11, the wave started to become better organized, and by 15:00 UTC on November 13, it had developed into Tropical Depression Thirty-One in the southern Caribbean, tying 2005 for the most tropical depressions recorded in one season. Six hours later, the system strengthened into Tropical Storm Iota. After struggling somewhat due to wind shear and dry air, Iota began to rapidly intensify over warm waters late on November 14, as convection started to wrap around the storm's center. At 06:00 UTC on November 15, Iota reached hurricane status, before strengthening to Category 2 status at 00:00 UTC on November 16.
By 06:00 UTC on November 16, hurricane hunters discovered that Iota had become a high-end Category 3 major hurricane, marking the first time that there were two major hurricanes recorded in November. They also found intense lightning in Iota's southwest eyewall along with hail, which is extremely rare for a hurricane, given the warm temperatures that are present in those storms. Just 40 minutes later, at 06:40 UTC, Iota reached Category 4 intensity. At 15:00 UTC, Iota intensified further into the season's first Category 5 hurricane and simultaneously reached its peak intensity with winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 917 mb (27.08 inHg). This made Iota only the second November Category 5 Atlantic hurricane ever recorded as well as the latest recorded date of a storm becoming a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin. After peaking in intensity, Iota's pressure fluctuated somewhat before it weakened slightly to a high-end Category 4 hurricane at 03:00 UTC on November 17 as the storm began to interact with land. At 03:40 UTC, Iota made landfall along the northeastern coast of Nicaragua, near the town of Haulover, with sustained winds of 155 mph (250 km/h) and a central pressure of 920 mb (27.17 inHg). Iota's landfall location was approximately 15 miles (25 km) south of where Hurricane Eta made landfall on November 3. This also made Iota the strongest hurricane in recorded history to make landfall in Nicaragua within November.
Iota then rapidly weakened as it moved over the mountainous terrain of Central America, falling below major hurricane status at 09:00 UTC on November 17, and below hurricane status at 18:00 UTC. The inner core of the weakening system was disrupted as it moved through Honduras, and Iota weakened to a tropical depression on November 18 at 09:00 UTC, as it entered El Salvador. Six hours after this downgrade, Iota's low-level circulation center dissipated and the NHC issued their final advisory on Iota.
Tropical storm warnings were first issued for the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia around midday on November 14. Three hours later, a hurricane watch was issued for Providencia, as well as along the coast of Northern Nicaragua and Eastern Honduras, with a tropical storm watch also issued for Central Honduras. All of the watches were eventually upgraded to warnings, with an additional hurricane watch for San Andrés as well as a tropical storm warning for south central Nicaragua. The rest of the coastline of Honduras, as well as the Bay Islands, were later put under tropical storm warnings on November 16.
With Nicaragua still reeling from Hurricane Eta two weeks prior, many areas remained flooded. Towns around Puerto Cabezas in particular were devastated by Eta and debris remained strewn across the area. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies emphasized the risk of widespread flooding and landslides as soils were completely saturated. The Government of Nicaragua opened 600 shelters and 63,000 people evacuated nationwide. Some residents feared starvation while residing in shelters as Eta largely destroyed the region's crops. The government of Taiwan donated 800 tons of rice to the areas expected to be impacted by the storm.
The Government of El Salvador opened 1,000 shelters with a capacity for 30,000 people. By November 17, 700 people had relocated from their homes.
The precursor tropical wave to Iota produced heavy rain across Venezuela's Falcón state, primarily in the Paraguaná Peninsula. In the Silva municipality, flooding affected 288 homes. Damage to homes was reported in El Cayude and El Tranquero. The community of Santa Ana lost electrical service. Civil Protection officials advised residents of possible flooding along the Matícora reservoir in Mauroa, the Barrancas river, and the Quebrada de Uca river. Some flooding occurred in the state of Miranda.
Heavy rains associated with a tropical wave and Iota caused extensive damage in Colombia. The worst damage took place in the Mohán sector of Dabeiba where landslides killed three people, injured 20, and left eight others missing. Eight people were rescued from the rubble. The landslides destroyed 67 homes and damaged 104 others as well as three schools. A total of 497 people were affected in the community. Approximately 100 vehicles were trapped by rockfalls along a road between Dabeiba and Urabá. Flooding affected 10 municipalities within the Chocó Department; the town of Lloró was isolated after the only bridge to the community collapsed. A landslide in Carmen de Atrato killed one person when his home was buried. Across Chocó, an estimated 28,000 people were affected. A van with two occupants disappeared when a landslide dragged the vehicle into the Atrato River. Emergencies were declared for 29 municipalities in the Santander Department where multiple rivers topped their banks. Several families were evacuated from Cimitarra due to rising water along the Carare River. A bridge collapse along the Chicamocha River isolated approximately 1,000 people in Carcasí and Enciso. More than 1,000 homes were damaged in the Atlántico Department: 693 in Malambo, 200 in Candelaria, and 150 in Carreto.
An estimated 70 percent of Cartagena saw flooding due to the direct effects of Iota, affecting an estimated 155,000 people. Numerous homes were damaged or destroyed by floods and landslides. Two people died in the San Pedro neighborhood when the motorcycle they were riding was swept into a canal. City officials converted the Coliseo de Combate into a shelter capable of accommodating 200 people.
On November 15–16, Iota passed close to the outlying Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina as a Category 5 hurricane. The center of the hurricane's eye missed Providencia by 11 miles (18 km), but the storm still made a direct hit (rather than a landfall) on the island, causing damage described as "unprecedented" by President Iván Duque Márquez. This marked the first time a Category 5 hurricane struck the country directly. Communication was lost with the island on November 16, lasting for over 20 hours. An estimated 98–99 percent of structures on the island were damaged or destroyed,  including buildings constructed in the 15th century. Every home on the island suffered damage, with 80 percent being destroyed. One person was killed and six were injured on the island. Two shelters were known to have lost their roof before communication was lost. The situation on the island was difficult to ascertain as of November 17, though the island's hospital was assumed destroyed or rendered inoperable. Although debris covered runways at El Embrujo Airport, initially preventing aircraft from arriving or leaving, by November 17 it was operational enough to allow President Duque to visit and assess the damage of the island.
On San Andrés, torrential rains and large swells caused extensive flooding. Seawater rose up to 9.8 ft (3 m). Powerful winds uprooted numerous trees, some of which fell on homes, and several homes lost their roof. Communications with San Andrés were temporarily lost during the storm and approximately 60 percent of the island lost power. Flooding reached a depth of 6 in (15 cm) at the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport, preventing usage of the runways. One person was killed on the island.
Nearly 44,000 homes suffered total or partial damage in Nicaragua, said Nicaraguan Finance Minister Ivan Acosta, estimating the storms have cost the country $743 million in losses, according to government media site El 19
Iota made landfall in Nicaragua as a high-end Category 4 hurricane near the town of Haulover, just south of Puerto Cabezas, on November 16, only 15 miles (25 km) south of where Hurricane Eta made landfall 13 days prior. As Iota was moving ashore, Puerto Cabezas airport reported sustained winds of 72 knots (85 mph; 135 km/h) with gusts to 98 knots (115 mph; 180 km/h) at 02:53 UTC on November 17. Damage reports, however, were extremely limited due to damage the area sustained previously from Hurricane Eta. These reports were also limited due to most communications to Puerto Cabezas being knocked out during the storm. An amateur radio from Club de Radio-Experimentadores de Nicaragua (CREN) reported winds of 124 mph (200 km/h) winds and damaged roofs, although it was unclear whether these were sustained winds or wind gusts. The roof was torn off of a makeshift hospital that was serving as a replacement to an older hospital, requiring an evacuation of the patients there.
A total of 160,233 homes lost power in Nicaragua and 47,638 families lost water service. The Instituto Nicaragüense de Telecomunicaciones y Correos|es reported loss of telephone service to 35 communities.
Torrential rains on already saturated soils led to extensive flooding and landslides. At least 28 people died in relation to the hurricane while 29 others are missing. Two children were swept away by a river in Santa Teresa, Carazo, while three other members of their family went missing; a sixth family member was rescued. A landslide killed two people in Wiwilí de Jinotega and another person died in Quilalí. In Wiwilí, fears arose over the safety of residents who evacuated into the mountains to escape flooding as numerous landslides occurred in the region. On November 17, at least 30 people were buried in a landslide in Macizo de Penas Blancas, and a boy was found buried. The next day, four more bodies were recovered, including one of a baby. On November 23 a passenger truck plunged off a road in a mountainous area that had been devastated by Iota, the accident cause the deaths of 17 people and 25 injuries. A preliminary damage estimate places the damages at 12.3 billion córdobas ($352.5 million USD).
Iota produced heavy rainfall over portions of Honduras, causing a river to overflow in Tocoa. Mudslides and downed trees were also reported in portions of the country. La Ceiba, Honduras reported a wind gust of 58 mph (93 km/h). At least 16 people have died and one other is missing as a result of impacts from Iota in Honduras. Landslides were the primary cause of fatalities; one in San Manuel Colohete killed eight people and another in Los Trapiches killed five people. Teonela Paisano Wood, the mayor of Brus Laguna, stated concerns that continued rainfall pose a large threat to the town. Various concrete and wooden houses were reduced to rubble. As of the morning of November 18, COPECO reported 366,123 people were directly affected by the hurricane. 80% of Copán Ruinas' roads were rendered impassible due to mudslides and flash flooding. The Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport is expected to be remained closed until mid-December. The passenger terminal experienced severe damages, and estimated repair times are more than a month.
The states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz all experienced effects from Iota's rainfall. Cumulative total across the three states were nearly 297,000 affected people, as well as almost 59,000 homes being damaged. Blocked roads cut off access to 135 communities.
Spreading of disease, ranging from colds and skin rashes to gastrointestinal problems has become much more common. Other infection rates of illnesses such as Dengue fever and COVID are increasing as well. Some are refusing to be tested for COVID due to fears of being refused shelter due to infection. People in need of medications have not been able to get them.
Following restoration of communication with Providencia on November 16, President Duque pledged immediate aid to the island. A state of emergency was declared for a year. Rough seas on November 17 prevented the Colombian Navy from reaching the island, though Duque was able to fly by helicopter for an aerial survey. Two field hospitals and 4,000 tents were to be set up on the island. Emphasis was placed on evacuating critical injuries to the mainland before establishing the field hospitals. By November 19, 112 people were airlifted from the island. The Colombian military deployed engineers and 15 tons of food. Duque stated that a plan for the complete reconstruction of Providencia's infrastructure was to be drawn up within 100 days and that all of the destroyed housing would be rebuilt by 2022. Duque pledged 150 billion pesos (US$41 million) for infrastructure repair. The relative lack of casualties in Providencia is attributed to residents adhering to warnings and seeking refuge in sturdy structures or interior bathrooms.
Opposition to Duque criticized him for not evacuating Providencia ahead of the storm.
On November 18, the Government of Colombia pledged 500 billion pesos (US$136 million) for recovery efforts in Bolívar and Cartagena.
Operation USA began preparations for relief efforts on November 17. Nicaragua's army had sent 100 rescuers to a site where a landslide caused damage. Downed trees blocking the road hampered the effort. About 1,000 food kits will be delivered, as well as recreational activities for sheltered children. The food kits will be available until the government is able to provide adequate food support. 1,000 hygiene kits, which include laundry soap, hand and dish soap, bleach, and toilet paper will be given. Families will also receive purified water, face masks, blankets, buckets, plastic sheets, eggs and beef (the last two for preferred protein sources).
As of November 25, 2.5 million people had limited or no access to health services due to impacts. Officials have reported that more than 4 million people have been affected by Eta and Iota. Project HOPE has given shipments of Personal protective equipment, 50,000 masks, as well as items for the WASH project. 185,000 people have been displaced. 10 health facilities have reported a complete loss of cold-chain equipment, which hampered preparations made for distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Immediate support for 1,000 people will be given. Money will be used to purchase food, hygiene kits, and COVID-19 protection for families.
- Tropical cyclones in 2020
- List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes
- Hurricane Fifi–Orlene (1974) - A deadly Category 2 crossover hurricane that devastated similar areas
- Hurricane Joan–Miriam (1988) – A destructive Category 4 crossover hurricane that took a similar path
- Hurricane Cesar–Douglas (1996) – A deadly Category 1 crossover hurricane that took a similar path
- Hurricane Mitch (1998) – A Category 5 hurricane that devastated similar areas
- Hurricane Wilma (2005) – A Category 5 hurricane that also rapidly intensified in a similar region
- Hurricane Felix (2007) – A Category 5 hurricane that took a similar track
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