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Iota expected to hit storm-weary Central America as a major hurricane

Tropical Storm Iota is forecast to make landfall along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border as a major hurricane — just as Hurricane Eta did.

Tropical Storm Iota is expected to become a major hurricane and strike Central America early next week, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The forecast is a grim one for a region still reeling from the death and devastation inflicted by Hurricane Eta, which made landfall as a major storm earlier this month.

Related: After catastrophic Eta, millions of Hondurans brace for Iota

Iota was still a tropical storm on Saturday, traveling west at 5 mph with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, according to the hurricane center’s 10 p.m. advisory. It was 445 miles from the Nicaraguan-Honduran border.

Conditions are favorable for the storm to rapidly intensify late Saturday or early Sunday. It is expected to be at major hurricane strength — a Category 3 storm or higher generating winds exceeding 111 mph — when it makes landfall late Monday or early Tuesday.

The storm’s projected path and intensity as it steams toward Central America is eerily similar to the path that Eta took when it made land landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Nov. 3. However, no models show Iota curving toward Florida the way Eta did.

Hurricane watches were in effect for most of the Nicaraguan and Honduran coasts.

“We still have concerns in the Caribbean but it will stay south (of Florida),” Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik said earlier Saturday. “These locations haven’t even recovered from the last storm, with flooding rains, washed-out bridges and landslides.”

The forecasted path of Tropical Storm Iota, according to the National Hurricane Center's 10 p.m. Saturday advisory. It is projected to strike Central America as a major hurricane early next week.
The forecasted path of Tropical Storm Iota, according to the National Hurricane Center's 10 p.m. Saturday advisory. It is projected to strike Central America as a major hurricane early next week. [ National Hurricane Center ]

Kacmarik said the biggest threat Iota will pose to Nicaragua and Honduras is the torrential rainfall and storm surge it will generate. That will lead to even more flooding in those nations, which, along with Guatemala, suffered a combined death toll of more than 100 people from Eta alone.

Iota and Tropical Storm Theta are the only systems in the tropical Atlantic. Theta is moving east at 6 mph through the north Atlantic and is expected to dissipate early next week.

As for Tampa Bay, a cold front will arrive Monday night, Kacmarik said. Highs will be in the upper 70s from Tuesday through Saturday, while lows will dip into the upper 50s each day.

“We’ll get a little taste of fall on Monday night,” she said. “By the time we get into Tuesday, we’ll really be feeling that drier and cooler air.”

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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behindl

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