Hurricane Iota is now weakening rapidly over Central America, and will be long gone if it doesn’t decide to reform over the Eastern Pacific. However, that scenario is looking unlikely, so it is time to look to the recovery phase of the tropical cyclone response.

Damage from Iota in Providencia has been major, with severe structural damage already reported.

The damage from the system has undoubtedly been catastrophic and exacerbated by Eta’s effects just a few weeks ago. Areas affected include Providencia and San Andres in Colombia, Nicaragua, and Honduras, with less severe impacts felt farther away. The reporting in the coming days is likely to reveal extreme damage due to storm surge, winds, and rainfall, and the damage could end up causing a humanitarian disaster. Major damage from Providencia has already been reported and can be seen on the right. Damage reports from Providencia have noted that 98% of the structures on the island have suffered damage, which could be similar to the scene shown on the right. Similar, if not more extreme, damage can be expected in the landfall area in Nicaragua.

The most significant damages are likely to come from rainfall induced landslides, as Iota has dropped extreme amounts of rain over areas already waterlogged by Eta. Furthermore, these landslides were also seen in Eta’s impacts, with at least one village in Central America being buried. These same landslides were responsible for the humanitarian crisis which occurred after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, killing over 10,000 people in the same area. Impacts are still unknown in Nicaragua and Honduras, but they may be worse than Mitch due to the double impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Now we can only hope for the best as damage reports filter out after the system leaves.

Wind and storm surge were likely also significant factors, but unlikely to produce as much damage as the rainfall did. However, all impacts have complicated recovery from Hurricane Eta, and in particular, the wind and storm surge have further destroyed an area already decimated by that system. In particular, Puerto Cabezas is a rather large population center that has been on the receiving end of both Hurricanes Eta and Iota, and already displaced people in the municipality have had to evacuate again. The same is undoubtedly true farther inland, with Iota setting back flood recovery efforts.

Iota is an unprecedented meteorological event, by far the most intense hurricane on record (by pressure) to strike Nicaragua, and just after another Category 4 hurricane had struck it. Iota reached Category 5 hurricane status in November, and then proceeded to only slightly weaken before landfall. It is a truly unusual and terrible meteorological phenomenon, but at this point, we can only hope that the damages have not been as extensive as they can be. Stay safe.

Hurricane Iota’s eye at its peak on November 16th. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency at https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus

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