On the forecast track, Iota will pass near or over Providencia island, which is under a hurricane warning, later Monday.
As of 1300 UTC, Hurricane Iota was some 170 miles east of Isla de Providencia, Columbia, and 315 miles east-southeast of the Nicaragua-Honduras border, with maximum sustained winds of 90 MPH, moving to the west at 9 MPH.
Iota became a Category 2 hurricane late Sunday afternoon, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would likely be an extremely risky Category 4 storm when it approached the Central America mainland late Monday.
Iota strengthened to hurricane force early Sunday as it tracked westward over the Caribbean towards the Nicaragua-Honduras border.
Wind and rain were beginning to be felt Sunday night in Bilwi, a coastal Nicaraguan city where people crowded markets and hardware stores during the day in search of plastic sheeting, nails and other materials to reinforce their homes, just as they did when Hurricane Eta hit on November 3.More news: Masks to be mandatory on Auckland public transport and planes from Thursday
Iota has intensified over the western Caribbean on approach to Nicaragua and Honduras.
The NHC forecast "potentially catastrophic winds, a life-threatening storm surge and extreme rainfall" for Central America as Iota became the year's 13th hurricane.
Warmer seas caused by climate change are making hurricanes stronger for longer after landfall, scientists say.
A resident of Bilwi, a coastal town in Nicaragua, said some locals were refusing to leave their homes for fear of catching coronavirus in shared shelters.
More than 3.6 million people across Central America have been affected by the storm to varying degrees, the Red Cross said earlier this week.More news: South Australia hit by growing cluster of Covid-19 cases
Eight to 16 inches of rain will also be possible in areas hard-hit by flooding and landslides from Eta, including Nicaragua and Honduras and also Guatemala and southern Belize.
Catastrophic wind damage is expected where Iota's eyewall moves onshore within the Hurricane Warning area in Nicaragua tonight with tropical storm conditions expected by this afternoon.
There are numerous wind alerts for a large part of the eastern half of the nation where gusts over 45 miles per hour will be possible, including in several major cities - from Kansas City to Chicago to Detroit and to Buffalo - which could bring down trees and power lines.
The storm comes as Central America is still coping with the enormous destruction wrought by Eta, which slammed into the region two weeks ago, causing flooding and mudslides that have killed scores of people from Panama to southern Mexico. Theta, the 29th, was far out in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, and became a remnant low Sunday.More news: Trump plans last-minute China crackdown to trip up Biden: Axios
The official end of the hurricane season is November 30.