In rare event, 2 tropical cyclones aimed at Hawaii
Tropical cyclones in the Pacific do not worry some Hawaiian residents because direct hits historically have been so rare on the islands. Hawaii is a small target in a large ocean.
But the state finds itself prepping ahead of what could be a pair of back-to-back smacks from Hurricane Iselle and Tropical Storm Julio.
Even if these two storms weaken or don’t make landfall — as is usually the case around Hawaii — they can still cause damage, including flooding and debris, experts warn.
Try telling that to Scott Murray, who has lived in Hilo, on Hawaii’s Big island, for more than 60 years.
“People are not really nervous, but honestly just hoping for some good surf,” said Murray, who owns the Hilo Surfboard Company. “Surfers get excited when hurricane season starts. The people here are really nonchalant and are used to rain, which is the main thing we are expecting.”
There are no lines at the supermarket or stocking of supplies, even though Iselle is on a forecast track to hit the islands on Thursday.
“I’m not worried about this storm,” Murray said.
History appears to back him up.
A 2002 report by the U.S. Geological Survey states that “actual hurricane strikes on the Hawaiian Islands are relatively rare in the modern record.”
“More commonly, near-misses that generate large swell and moderately high winds causing varying degrees of damage are the hallmark of hurricanes passing close to the islands,” according to the report.
A primer on Hurricane in Hawaii by the University of Hawaii says just as much: “Hurricanes are relatively rare events in the Hawaiian islands.”
However, even if Iselle and Julio change course and miss the islands, it does not mean that dangers are averted.
Flying debris poses a risk, and back-to-back storms over an area that is already saturated makes for a flooding risk.
Officials at the state and local level are not taking the risks that Iselle and Julio pose lightly.
“We are actually monitoring very closely. We’ve had several tropical systems since June 1,” said Darryl Oliver of the Hawaii County Civil Defense. “The ground is very saturated. We are very hopeful it will weaken. However, it still is likely to present tropical storm force winds at 74 mph, high surf at 10 to 15 feet, and heavy rain.”
As of Tuesday, Iselle was a Category 3 hurricane but was expected to weaken as it neared Hawaii, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical Storm Julio, on the other hand, could strengthen to hurricane force by the time it reaches the islands.
“We are very concerned with the flooding that will be possible from having two major storms so close together,” Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Kurt Fredrickson said.
The Coast Guard’s priority is keeping the Port of Honolulu open, where 90% of the state’s goods and services pass through, he said.
The agency is asking residents to stock up on supplies for at least seven days, as power outages are expected.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has issued a similar warning.
“Yes, it is a concern if both storms hit back to back because the ground will be saturated with water, increasing the odds of flooding,” he said.
Many Hawaiians spread the news of the coming storms via social media, but not all were worried about what they could bring.
“Can’t wait for the storm to hit, I’m ready for some rain,” one Twitter user in Hawaii wrote. Another wrote: “Is it bad that my family is doing literally NOTHING to prepare for the hurricane?”
Hawaii’s primary elections are slated for Saturday. Local media reported that many turned up for early voting in anticipation of severe weather on election day. Others are concerned that voting turnout could be affected.
Some shelters will be set up in the same buildings where voting is to be held, the governor’s office said.