FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hurricane Iota continued to expand and strengthen over the Caribbean Sea, and is forecast to be at Category 4 strength within 48 hours or so, ahead of its landfall in northeastern Central America, the National Hurricane Center said.
Iota had increased in intensity from a tropical storm to a hurricane at Category 1 strength, with 90 mph winds, by Sunday morning.
Iota is forecast to be a Category 3 hurricane by early Monday, and a Category 4 hurricane by early Tuesday, with winds at 130 mph as it approaches the coast of northern Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras, forecasters said.
The storm is expected bring life-threatening storm surge of 9 to 13 feet along the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, where hurricane and storm surge warnings were in effect Sunday.
Flooding and rains of 8 to 16 inches — with isolated totals of 30 inches — are also forecast in Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Guatemala, southern Belize, the hurricane center said in its latest advisory. This same region was recently hit with deadly floods brought by Eta.
Named after the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet, Iota (pronounced ee-oh-tah), isn't expected to take the same turn to the north that Eta did before hitting Florida earlier this week. It could, however, travel to the Pacific Ocean, becoming a rare crossover storm that gets renamed.
Iota was about 315 miles east-southeast of the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, moving west at 9 mph, as of 1 p.m. Sunday. Its expanding tropical storm-force winds stretch 90 miles.
Forecasters expect Iota to continue to speed up as it churns across the central Caribbean Sea.
Iota could also bring heavy rainfall and flooding to portions of Haiti and Jamaica, with possible landslides, forecasters said.
The 2020 hurricane season became the busiest in recorded history when Tropical Storm Theta formed on Nov. 9. Theta is still active in the far eastern Atlantic but is of no immediate threat to land.
Tropical Storm Eta became the first storm of the 2020 hurricane season to make landfall in Florida when it moved over the Florida Keys last Sunday. It made a second landfall just south of Cedar Key early Thursday.
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