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Nicole

Tropical Storm Otto Nears Hurricane Strength; Forecast to Make Very Rare Thanksgiving Hurricane Central America Landfall

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Tropical Storm Otto is nearing hurricane strength in the southwest Caribbean Sea, and is forecast to be an extremely rare late November hurricane landfall, posing a danger of flooding and mudslides in parts of Central America.

A hurricane watch was issued Tuesday morning for Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua. This means that hurricnae conditions are possible here within 48 hours.

In addition, a tropical storm warning was issued in Panama from Nargana to Colon, where tropical storm conditions are expected beginning Tuesday. A tropical storm watch is also in effect from west of Colon, Panama to Costa Rica. 

A tropical storm watch was issued Monday night for San Andres Island, a Colombian island in the Caribbean Sea located about 125 miles east of the Nicaragua coast. This means tropical storm conditions are possible there within 48 hours.

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Tropical Storm Otto continues to march in place, located just over 200 miles southeast of San Andres Island, or about 330 miles east-southeast of Bluefields, Nicaragua, as of Tuesday morning.

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Otto is finally expected to begin to drift westward later Tuesday followed by a faster motion toward the west-northwest or west by Wednesday, as clockwise steering flow around high pressure building to its north will send this system westward toward the coast of Nicaragua or Costa Rica.

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Projected Path

The red-shaded area denotes the potential path of the center of the tropical cyclone. Note that impacts (particularly heavy rain, high surf, coastal flooding) with any tropical cyclone may spread beyond its forecast path.

Tropical storm force winds currently extend out to about 70 miles from the center of circulation, making Otto a relatively small tropical cyclone.

Wind shear is expected to be weak to moderate over the next few days, and small tropical cyclones can also intensify quickly, particularly given heat content in the southwest Caribbean Sea is well above average for this time of year.

Given all this, Otto will intensify, becoming a rare, late-season hurricane before making landfall in Nicaragua or Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day.

Heavy rain, flash flooding and mudslides will be major concerns for Central America, including Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Some locations may pick up over 10 inches of rain from Otto.

In addition, areas of heavy rain well to the north of the circulation may trigger flooding in parts of Honduras and Belize. 

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Any wind and storm surge impact will depend on the strength of the system as it moves inland, which remains somewhat uncertain at this time.

Otto is expected to weaken soon after making landfall, as the circulation is hampered by the higher terrain of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. However, there is some potential for the circulation to survive in some form once it emerges into the eastern Pacific Ocean. Atlantic tropical cyclones crossing into the eastern Pacific Basin have happened numerous times in the past. 

How Unusual is a Named Storm This Late in the Hurricane Season?

November Atlantic Basin tropical cyclones aren't all that unusual.

In November, tropical cyclones typically form where the waters are warmest. Thus, one cluster of storms forming in November is in the western Caribbean Sea.

A second broad area of formation is in a broad swath of the western and central Atlantic Ocean, sometimes spinning off from an old frontal boundary, sometimes transitioning from a cold-core low to a subtropical or tropical cyclone.

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