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Tropical Storm Iota forms, continuing record-breaking season. Forecast to become hurricane

Tropical Storm Iota in 2020. (NOAA/Released)

Tropical Storm Iota has formed in the central Caribbean Sea on Friday, marking the 30th named storm in a record-breaking hurricane season. Iota is forecast to turn into a hurricane before approaching Central America next week. Central America is already reeling from Eta hitting Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane last week.

Iota was moving toward the south-southwest near 3 mph with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph with higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 10 p.m. advisory Friday.

It was about 350 miles south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 610 miles east of Cabo Gracias A Dios on the Nicaragua/Honduras border.

Iota continues 2020’s streak of most storms recorded in modern history. The previous record was in 2005 with 28 storms, including the devastating Hurricane Katrina. This year’s season broke the record Monday night when Tropical Storm Theta formed in the Atlantic.

“Steady to rapid strengthening is likely over the weekend, and the system is forecast to be a major hurricane when it approaches Central America,” forecasters wrote of Iota.

The hurricane center’s interactive forecast track shows Iota having maximum sustained winds of 120 mph by Monday when it nears the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. That would make it a Category 3 hurricane.

Its forecast track is similar to Eta’s, which hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane last week and caused widespread destruction in Nicaragua and neighboring Honduras. About 1.2 million children have been impacted by the storms in Central America, UNICEF said this week.

On the forecast track, Iota will move across the central Caribbean Sea during the next day or so, and approach the coasts of Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras on Monday, according to the hurricane center.

The National Hurricane Center says it expects the system will see some significant strengthening during the next 24 to 72 hours, enough to turn it into a major hurricane in a few days. Forecasters say the system should weaken once it is over land but that if a more northern track occurs, keeping it over water, it could become stronger.

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect yet, but forecasters expect a Hurricane Watch may be required for a portion of Nicaragua and Honduras on Friday night, with a “risk of dangerous wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts across portions of Nicaragua and Honduras beginning Sunday night.”

The hurricane center predicts that the system will produce 8 to 16 inches of rain across Honduras and northern Nicaragua, with isolated maximum totals of 20 inches.

Across Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Colombia, southern Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador, forecaster predict 3 to 6 inches of rain, with some areas possibly seeing up to 10 inches of rain.

“This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain,” forecasters wrote.

Jamaica and southern Haiti may see 1 to 3 inches of rain, forecasters say.

NOAA predicted this would be an above-average season early on, and midseason it upped its expectations to call for the highest number of storms it had ever predicted — 25.

But 2020 blew through that in mid-October.

This year is also the second time the Greek alphabet has been used to name storms after the regular alphabetical list was exhausted.

And in case you’re wondering about Eta, which also struck Cuba and Florida as a tropical storm, it became an extratropical low Friday morning about 85 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center issued its last advisory on Eta at 4 a.m. Friday and said it would move into the Atlantic’s open waters, where it will be absorbed by a larger non-tropical cyclone on Saturday or Saturday night.

Hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.


(c) 2020 Miami Herald

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