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Perfect conditions for the season’s worst hurricane

Iota becomes season first Category 5 hurricane of a record-breaking tropical storm season

Hurricane Iota strengthens to the first Category 5 hurricane this season.
Hurricane Iota strengthens to the first Category 5 hurricane this season. (wjxt)

Hurricane Iota powered up fast Monday morning to 160 mph sustained winds, becoming a Category 5 storm Monday in a perfectly favorable environment known for creating the most intense hurricanes.

It is late in the season for top tier major hurricane, but this season has been exceptional with 30 named storms. Not only is Iota now the strongest hurricane of the year, but never before has such a powerful hurricane been this strong so late on the calendar in the Atlantic basin.

The storm will bring more trauma to the same countries in Central America where Category 4 Hurricane Eta struck on Nov. 3. It caused an estimated $5 billion in damages in Honduras, which is roughly 20% of the nation’s GDP.

Forecast models hinted days that what would become Iota could quickly becoming a major storm as all the right conditions came together, putting Nicaragua and Honduras in grave danger.

Very calm winds high above the storm are driving faster surface winds all fueled by warm water. The combination dropped the storm’s pressure rapidly, 26 MB in six hours, resulting in a stronger storm.

Shear or changing wind speed with height is bad for intensifying tropical cyclones.
Shear or changing wind speed with height is bad for intensifying tropical cyclones.

Just hours before landfall set for Monday night, Iota’s central pressure of 917 MB is lower than Hurricane Katrina’s central pressure at the time of its strongest Gulf Coast landfall.

The depth of warm water in the western Caribbean has erased Eta’s cool water wake with no compromise in Iota strength due to previous upwelling.

Potential Heat content of the water is high under Iota.
Potential Heat content of the water is high under Iota.

This is the 10th named storm to rapidly intensify by at least 35 mph in 24 hours so far this 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Six out of the last seven “Greek” named storms have rapidly intensified.

  • Hurricane Hanna, July 24–25, 35 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Laura, August 26–27, 65 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Sally, September 14–15, 40 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Teddy, September 17–18, 45 mph in 24 hours
  • Tropical Storm Gamma, October 2-3, 35 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Delta, October 5–6, 80 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Epsilon, October 20–21, 50 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Zeta, October 27-28, 45 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Eta, November 1-2, 70 mph in 24 hours
  • Hurricane Iota, November 14-15, 50 mph in 24 hours

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