2020 is playing some cruel cards.
Near the end of a record-breaking storm season, two powerful hurricanes, both named with Greek letters, slammed into nearly the same spot in Nicaragua. Hurricane Eta struck on Nov. 3, and Iota followed on Nov. 16. They made landfall just 15 miles apart.
The incoming scenes from the more recent cyclone, Iota, depict a submerged airport, stranded people, and ravaged homes in Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond.
The vigorous 2020 Atlantic storm season broke the record for named storms, with 30 as of Nov. 19. (The previous record in the well-observed satellite era, since 1966, was 28 named storms.) Tropical storms, which are organized cyclones with wind speeds of at least 39 mph, earn names, and some intensify into hurricanes. For just the second time ever, 2020 exhausted the 21 pre-chosen storm names, so weather agencies defaulted to Greek letters.
Crucially, as the oceans continue to absorb immense amounts of heat from the relentlessly warming atmosphere, hurricane scientists don’t expect more storms overall, but they do expect storms to grow more intense. “We think there will be an uptick in the most intense storms,” Brian Tang, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Albany, told Mashable in July.
Warmer sea surface temperatures are hurricane fuel: More moisture evaporates from the water, ultimately providing tropical storms more energy to grow stronger and carry more water. The odds of storms “rapidly intensifying,” or quickly growing stronger, have increased fivefold in the last 30 years, according to research cited in the Washington Post.
Before striking Central America, Hurricane Iota intensified by 100 mph in just 36 hours. Prior to 2020, only eight storms achieved that feat in nearly 170 years of record-keeping, according to atmospheric researcher Sam Lillo. But in the last two months, three storms hit that exceptional mark.
Iota became the first Greek alphabet-named storm on record to reach Category 5 strength (the strongest hurricane rating) in the Atlantic. The major storm pummeled Central America with rain and howling winds. Beyond the devastation, shown below, the storm has killed at least 30 people.