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Explained: How severe is hurricane Iota that made landfall in Central America?

Aid workers are struggling to reach communities cut off by washed-out bridges, downed trees and flooded roads in some regions of Central America, which are still reeling from the effects of hurricane Eta.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 17, 2020 6:11:18 pm
Hurricane Iota, Hurricane Iota category 5, central America cyclone, Honduras cyclone, hurricane Eta, hurricane climate change effect, what are hurricanes, how are hurricanes formed, indian express, express explainedPeople evacuate areas in San Manuel Cortes, Honduras, before Hurricane Iota made landfall on November 16. (Photo: AP)

Hurricane Iota made landfall in Nicaragua in Central America on Monday night and has developed into a a category five storm.

Iota was spotted as a tropical depression last week in the Central Caribbean Sea by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC), which is responsible for issuing forecasts for all tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins.

The Atlantic Hurricane season runs from June to November and covers the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, while the Eastern Pacific Hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30.

How severe is Hurricane Iota?

As per the NHC, hurricane Iota is a significant storm, and damaging winds and a life-threatening storm surge are expected along portions of the coast of northeastern Nicaragua during the next several hours. Further, NHC notes that due to heavy rainfall associated with the storm, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding is expected through Thursday across portions of Central America.

Hurricanes are categorised on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which rates them on a scale of 1 to 5 based on wind speed. Hurricanes that reach category three or higher are called ‘major hurricanes’ because of their potential to cause devastating damage to life and property.

Iota is a category five storm. Significantly, its landfall location near the town of Haulover in Nicaragua is just over 25 km away from where category four hurricane Eta made landfall on November 3, and killed over 140 people across Central America.

Therefore, flooding and mudslides across the portions of Honduras, Nicaragua and Gautemala could be exacerbated because of Eta’s recent effects in these areas, “resulting in significant to potentially catastrophic impacts”, NHC has said.

According to The New York Times, aid workers are struggling to reach communities cut off by washed-out bridges, downed trees and flooded roads in some regions of Central America, which are still reeling from the effects of hurricane Eta.

What are hurricanes and how do they form?

Tropical cyclones or hurricanes use warm, moist air as fuel, and therefore form over warm ocean waters near the equator. As NASA describes it, when the warm, moist air rises upward from the surface of the ocean, it creates an area of low air pressure below. Air from the surrounding areas rushes to fill this place, eventually rising when it becomes warm and moist too.

Also in Explained | Why did cyclones give October a miss?

When the warm air rises and cools off, the moisture forms clouds. This system of clouds and winds continues to grow and spin, fuelled by the ocean’s heat and the water that evaporates from its surface.

As such storm systems rotate faster and faster, an eye forms in the centre. Storms that form towards the north of the equator rotate counterclockwise, while those that form to the south spin clockwise because of the rotation of the Earth.

Are hurricanes becoming more severe now?

As hurricanes make landfall, they weaken, since they are cut off from the fuelling moisture provided by the oceans. But in a study published in the journal Nature on November 11, researchers noted that a warming world may be responsible for the increasingly slow decay of hurricanes.

In the study, the researchers claim that warmer sea surface temperatures induce a slower decay by increasing the stock of moisture that a hurricane carries with it as it hits the land.

Last week, the NHC noted that subtropical storm Theta, in the Northeast Atlantic, became the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season. This beats the record for the most named storms previously held by the 2005 hurricane season.

What is the difference between a hurricane and a tropical storm?

There is no difference. Depending on where they occur, hurricanes may be called typhoons or cyclones. As per NASA, the scientific name for all these kinds of storms is tropical cyclones.

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The tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean or the eastern Pacific Ocean are called hurricanes and the ones that form in the Northwest Pacific are called typhoons. Tropical storms that form in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea are called cyclones.

How do people protect themselves during a hurricane?

During a hurricane, storm surge (abnormal rise of water generated by a storm) and inland flooding are the two main reasons that can cause loss of life.

NHC has advised that the “safest place” to be during a major landfalling hurricane is in a reinforced interior room away from windows. “Get under a table or other piece of sturdy furniture. Use mattresses, blankets or pillows to cover your head and body. Remain in place through the passage of these life-threatening conditions,” it said in an advisory.

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