Hurricane Iota could hit Category 5 before Central America landfall

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Hurricane Iota has rapidly strengthened into a major hurricane and will bring catastrophic and life-threatening impacts to a Central American region that has yet to recover from the impacts of recent storm Eta.

Hurricane Iota formed in the Caribbean in recent days and is taking a similar path to major hurricane Eta that slammed into Nicaragua as the strongest Atlantic storm of the year and caused significant damage and loss of life. Iota has now taken the title for strongest storm of the season away from Eta and could strengthen some further before it makes landfall tonight.

Hurricane Iota is also heading for landfall in Nicaragua and Honduras, in a similar area and will cause a potentially deadly storm surge, bring life-threatening wind impacts and also drench the already soaked region with 30 inches or more of rain.

Currently, hurricane Iota is moving towards Nicaragua and still strengthening, with sustained winds reported at the latest update as having reached 155 mph and higher gusts, making it an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm. Update, 10am EST: Hurricane Iota has now reached Category 5 winds of 160 mph.

Some further rapid strengthening is still forecast and hurricane Iota will be a dangerous storm when it approaches the coastline, perhaps still at Category 5 strength.

Hurricane Iota forecast path and tracking map

As ever, the threat to the insurance-linked securities (ILS) and reinsurance market from a storm impacting this region of Central America is not expected to be significant.

But the threat to lives and livelihoods will be particularly severe, especially for those in areas already trying to recover from Eta, this is potentially a terrible few days ahead for communities in the region.

Insurance penetration remains low across parts of Central America such as this, with reinsurance support of local insurers also not significant in dollar value terms.

Some parametric risk transfer coverage is likely to be in play, given there are some arrangements in the region with exposure to hurricane force winds.

Nicaragua itself has a CCRIF policy in place, for tropical cyclone risks, and this may already have been triggered by recent storm Eta, and now could be again by Iota it seems.

A hurricane hunter aircraft found that hurricane Iota has strengthened rapidly in recent hours, with its minimum central pressure falling to 925 mb and sustained winds strengthening to 155 mph with higher gusts.

The NHC says to expect hurricane Iota to sustain at least Category 4 winds through landfall, with some forecast models also suggesting a chance of further intensification by the time the storm reaches land.

The NHC warns, “Data from NOAA satellites indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 155 mph (245 km/h) with higher gusts. Iota is a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Iota could be a catastrophic category 5 hurricane when it approaches Central America tonight, and rapid weakening is expected after landfall.

“Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles (240 km).”

The latest forecast warns of the dangers of hurricane Iota, saying the region should expect potentially catastrophic winds, a life-threatening storm surge and extreme rainfall.

The NHC suggests a storm surge of 12 to 18 feet above normal levels, with rainfall in isolated totals of up to 30 inches and winds capable of severe property damage.

The government’s of Nicaragua and Honduras have been encouraging people to evacuate out of the path of hurricane Iota and it is to be hoped that warnings are heeded as hurricane Iota will be the second extremely dangerous storm to impact this region within a few weeks.

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