Hurricane Eta was crawling across the Atlantic Ocean towards Nicaragua on Tuesday morning with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. The Category 4 storm was expected to make landfall on northeastern Nicaragua today, and then was forecast to slowly drag across Central America all week.
The latest track from the National Hurricane Service, issued at 10 am, predicted the storm would only emerge from Central America on Friday evening or early Saturday morning. Of great concern is its slow speed—it was moving at only five miles per hour—and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall. The Weather Channel was predicting 15 to 25 inches of rain in Honduras and Nicaragua, with higher amounts possible in some areas.
Nicaragua and Honduras are both prominent cigar-producing countries. Nicaragua is the leading exporter of premium cigars to the United States, the country where Padrón, Oliva, AJ Fernandez and many other cigars are made by hand. Honduras is the No. 3 exporter, the home of such brands as Camacho, Alec Bradley, Punch and many other cigars. Rocky Patel is a brand rolled in both countries.
Nicaragua is also a major producer of cigar tobacco. The farms and large leaf plantations across regions such as Estelí, Jalapa and Condega are right in Eta’s path. Currently, planting season in Nicaragua is still in its early stages, with seedlings in greenhouses and some already in the fields. A hurricane of this magnitude could wipe out the season’s first series of crops.
“The planting season [in Nicaragua] has just started, so the damage from the hurricane will be minimal compared to the total planting area,” said Nestor Andrés Plasencia, who grows tobacco and manufactures cigars in both Honduras and Nicaragua. “We made the decision to stop planting the seedlings [in Nicaragua] in the field this week.”
In Honduras, where the season is further along, Plasencia is taking steps to increase water drainage in the tobacco fields. As for harvested tobacco already hanging in the curing barns, he’s heating his barns to remove any excess moisture. “We are also praying for the security of our people which is the most important thing right now,” Plasencia added.