Iota – the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet
Eta – the 7th letter of the Greek alphabet.
BELIZE CITY, Tues. Nov. 17, 2020– Belizeans traditionally start feeling relief after surviving the month of October without a serious hurricane threat; but in the first two weeks of November, two systems that became active in the nearby south-western Caribbean Sea have turned into major hurricanes. Category 4 Hurricane Eta kept a path just south of us and struck the coast of Nicaragua on November 3; and less than two weeks later, on November 16, Category 5 Hurricane Iota followed practically the same trajectory, being slightly downgraded to Category 4 before making landfall last night just 15 miles south of the same location that was previously hit on the Nicaraguan coast.
Here in Belize City, a brief, hard shower around 8:00 p.m. last night in Belize City was followed by a relatively calm night; and during a relatively cool morning here there was some light rain under grey skies, with fresh northwesterly winds, but no hint of tropical storm conditions so far, as Iota is reported to have bent a little more south after moving inland into Nicaragua early this morning.
Amazingly, Belize appears to have once again been spared any major blows, except the floods, from two consecutive major hurricanes in our area. In light of how quickly these systems form and leap into monster mode in a couple of days, it is wise for Belizeans to still remain vigilantly on the outlook for continuing activity over the waters of the southwestern Caribbean Sea during the remaining days of November and even beyond, as the rules become stretched in this era of Global Warming.
As noted in an Associated Press report yesterday, “Over the past couple of decades, meteorologists have been more worried about storms like Iota that power up much faster than normal. They created an official threshold for this rapid intensification — a storm gaining 35 (56 kph) in wind speed in just 24 hours.
“Iota doubled it. Earlier this year, Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta, Zeta and Iota all rapidly intensified. Laura and Delta tied or set records for rapid intensification.”
The mood on Monday, November 16
Webster’s dictionary gives only one meaning for the word “eta,” which, after the designated storm names in the English alphabet for 2020 were all used, was chosen as the name for the hurricane that recently devastated parts of Nicaragua and inundated portions of that country as well as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, which is still suffering the effects of massive flooding in the central and western regions of the country.
On Monday afternoon, at 2:00 p.m. Central Time in Belize City, while the biggest concern to residents continued to be the raging Covid-19 pandemic that seems to be spiraling out of control, with 90 deaths so far, and is threatening to overwhelm our medical system, an almost eerie calm of bright sunshine and light north-westerly winds seemed to caress the old capital city. There was a slowly increasing cloud cover, but hardly any indication of the absolute terror being experienced by our brothers and sisters on the east coast of Nicaragua, who were just trying to recover from the terrible onslaught of Hurricane Eta a couple weeks ago, had to face the ominous wrath of oncoming Hurricane Iota, described by the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) as a “catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.”
Naysayers of the impact of Global Warming are woefully disarmed with the stark reality of drastically increasing hurricane activity and strength in recent decades: for only the second time in modern recorded history, the first being in 2005, the traditional 21-name list (Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used, as it is difficult to find appropriate and easily recognizable names beginning with these letters) has been exhausted long before the official end of the hurricane season on November 30, prompting the World Meteorological Organization to use the Greek alphabet as names for other new storms that develop.
“Iota” is the 9th, and indications are that they might soon have to employ the 10th letter, “Kappa,” from the Greek alphabet that includes Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, and Omega.
Just a couple weeks ago, on Tuesday, November 3, Belize was also resting easy as initial concerns faded about approaching Hurricane Eta, which was maintaining a bee-line for the Nicaraguan coast. The storm had appeared a few days earlier in the south-western Caribbean, with an outlook cone that showed Belize within the range of its possible destinations, although official projections favored the path it eventually took, straight toward Nicaragua. On that November 3 afternoon, the report from the NHC stated: “4 pm EST: Extremely dangerous Hurricane #Eta is making landfall just south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, with estimated maximum winds of 140 mph.”
Older Belizeans will recall our 1961 October 31 experience with Hurricane Hattie, which at its peak was a Category 5 hurricane packing sustained winds of 165 mph, but had weakened slightly to a Category 4 before devastating Belize City, Stann Creek Town and villages in between.
Last Wednesday, November 11, like the rest of Central America, Belizeans were still recovering from the massive flooding due to torrential rainfall in the whole region associated with Hurricane Eta, but we still managed to go to the polls for a historic General Elections. Traffic is back to normal on the main highways, but in many river-bank villages, especially the Belize River Valley area, flood waters are still high.
Our local weather officials have pointed out that, with the soil already saturated from the recent Eta-related rainfall and flooding, it will not take much additional rains to cause another serious flooding situation to develop. On the bright side for us, Acting Chief Meteorological Officer Gordon has observed that the projected path of Iota sees it not entering the Gulf of Honduras in front of Belize, as a weakened Eta eventually did, but instead taking a more south-western turn towards the Pacific. Also, he noted that Iota is moving faster than Eta did, so there will be less time for it to release the tremendous amount of rainfall that Eta did.
Nevertheless, the inevitable fact is that once again, Central America is about to be impacted by another catastrophic hurricane, with the expected massive rainfall and associated flooding and landslide threats.
As problematic as conditions may soon become for us in Belize, with the possibility of another highway collapse and the disruption of traffic across the country, it is a far worse situation facing our neighbors in Nicaragua especially, and also in flood or landslide prone areas of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Estimates say as many as 200 persons may have perished in the Central American countries impacted by Eta. Now they have to deal with Iota.
The NHC Update for 10:45 PM EST is as follows: “Category 4 Hurricane Iota, with sustained winds near 155 mph (250 km/h) made landfall along the northeastern coast of Nicaragua near the town of Haulover, or about 30 miles (45 km) south of Puerto Cabezas, at 1040 PM EST… this Monday evening.”
After some hard rain and fresh north-westerly wind around 8:00 p.m. last night in Belize City, it is once again calm in the old capital, before another outer band of showers and wind skips our way from Iota’s destructive journey across Central America.
We can manage with the rain and some breeze; we’ll battle the floods that will surely come along with it; but Belizeans, who realize how close we “dodged the bullet” again, sincerely appreciate our good fortune, and sympathize deeply with our neighbors in Nicaragua who are now battling for survival against this monster storm.
Indeed, a personal Twitter message this Monday afternoon on the NHC website captures the sentiment shared by many of us:
[email protected]: “Sending Prayers to the people of Honduras and Nicaragua still recovering from Hurricane Eta last week and now having category 5 Hurricane Iota on its way..
So so so so sad!” 1:09 PM · Nov 16, 2020·Twitter for iPhone
Meanwhile, Belizeans must keep a watchful eye on possible developments of Kappa.