News Column

Hawaii Braces for Major Tropical Storm

July 29, 2013

Hawaii island and Maui are in the cross hairs this morning as the isles face the first direct hit from a tropical storm in more than 20 years.

At 8 p.m. Sunday, Tropical Storm Flossie was 265 miles east of Hilo and 465 miles east-southeast of Honolulu and moving east at 18 mph. The storm was sporting maximum sustained winds of about 60 mph and was expected to weaken as it approached the island today.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Kauai and Niihau.

Flossie is expected to still be at tropical storm intensity -- winds 39 to 73 mph -- when it makes landfall on Hawaii island today, according to National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Michael Cantin.

The Big Island and Maui are expected to absorb the worst as the storm takes aim. Both islands could be subjected to maximum sustained winds of up to 40 mph, with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Winds on the other islands are expected to reach 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 40.

"These winds will be strong enough to cause minor structural damage to roofs, lanais, shingles and then some vegetation as well," Cantin said.

Cantin said that residents who are in the path of the storm and concerned about their belongings can feel free to board up their windows but that it isn't being recommended to everyone because the storm is not bringing hurricane-strength wind to the islands.

Cantin said the most significant potential danger will be heavy rain. The windward areas of the Big Island and Maui could be hit with up to 10 inches of rain over a six- to eight-hour period as the storm passes, he said. Windward Oahu could experience as much as 8 inches of rain. Such volume of precipitation could lead to flooding, landslides and other hazards.

Only minor storm surges are expected because the storm hasn't been very strong for very long, but coastal areas will still be dangerous.

"Those waves will be breaking, they'll be breaking over breakwalls, say like in Hilo Harbor and along coastal benches, so if you're out there the potential for being swept into the sea is very real, and we've got to take that seriously," he said.

Minor surging, combined with strong winds and large waves, will probably cause minor coastal inundation in areas that are prone to it, Cantin said.

Cantin explained earlier that the storm was drawing dry conditions from the north across the islands, resulting in clear, relatively breezy conditions. As the storm nears, however, it is expected to churn warmer, humid air from the south, creating muggy conditions in immediate advance of the approaching wind and rain.

Though the bright, clear afternoon Sunday did nothing to support the dire predictions coming from her television, 80-year-old downtown resident Gussie Bento figured it wasn't worth taking any chances.

So, with shopping list duly stored on her smartphone, Bento made her way across the street to the Longs Drugs store on Vineyard Boulevard to stock up on supplies in advance of Flossie's much-anticipated arrival.

"You hear about this kind of thing once in a while, and even though nothing usually comes to fruition, you have to figure that maybe one day it will," she said, chuckling. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

As Bento spoke, harried shoppers reached around her for packages of dried seaweed or squeezed past her cart in search of toilet paper, batteries and other just-in-case essentials.

"You never know," said Brad Self, 33, who lives downtown. "I grew up in the Midwest, so I'm used to preparing like this."

At Longs and other stores on Oahu, shoppers emptied store shelves of bottled water and other provisions even as they expressed skepticism that Flossie's effects would be dire.

Cantin said this is the first time in recorded history that a tropical cyclone will directly hit Hawaii island, so forecasters can't be sure what effect the land mass will have on the storm.

"As this circulation comes in, we'll be able to see how the tropical storm feels the islands," he said. "The leading edge of the circulation is already feeling the Big Island, and that will in turn translate back into the circulation, so we expect as it feels the Big Island more and more, it'll begin to weaken the system."

Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a proclamation declaring as disaster areas the City and County of Honolulu and the counties of Kauai, Hawaii and Maui, thereby authorizing the use of state funds set aside for damages, losses and suffering resulting from the storm.

The proclamation also activated the National Guard to assist civilian authorities in disaster relief.

Individual counties issued a series of announcements and advisories in advance of Flossie's landfall.

On the Big Island, officials announced the opening of several evacuation centers, and Mayor Billy Kenoi ordered all nonessential county workers to stay home today. UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College, including the University of Hawaii Center in West Hawaii, will be closed today.

State agencies have been told to use their own discretion in determining whether to open their offices and services today. All courts on Hawaii island will be closed today, the state Judiciary said.

Most schools in the island don't start until later this week, but acting Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said his staff was still checking private and charter schools to learn of their plans.

The county also announced that all of its parks were closed by the end of the evening Sunday. The state made a similar announcement regarding its beach parks at about 8:30 p.m.

Department of Land and Natural Resources officials closed the Waimanu Trail and campground, Pololu Trail and the Ainapo Trail and cabin, all on Hawaii island, starting Saturday. DLNR officials also are advising the public to avoid entering forests on all islands, starting today, because of the storm.

On Maui, Mayor Alan Arakawa urged residents to begin preparing for the storm "so that we can avoid the mad last-minute rush to gas stations and grocery stores that we often see."

All Maui County facilities will be closed today, although automated trash pickup will operate as usual.

The Maui bus system will operate as usual. However, service could be suspended if roads become unsafe due to the storm. Campers at county beach parks were evacuated Sunday, and camping will be prohibited at all beach parks until further notice.

Maui officials are also asking residents today to limit water use to health and sanitation purposes.

Around the state, boat owners took extra measures to secure their vessels or made arrangements to ride out the storm at sea.

The Coast Guard closed the Hawaii island ports of Hilo and Kawaihae, as well as Kahului, to all traffic starting midnight Sunday. All cargo operations in these ports are expected to be secured by 6 a.m. today, officials said.

Coast Guard Capt. Shannon Gilreath urged local mariners to review their heavy-weather plans and to remain attentive to forecasts for Flossie.

"While we have not set conditions for the other ports, you should still exercise caution and prudence in conducting your operations," said Gilreath.

Local utilities also spent the weekend planning for the approaching storm.

Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu had crews on standby Sunday and will be fully staffed today.

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said the company is watching the storm forecast closely and taking usual precautions such as filling its trucks with gas and stocking them with standard maintenance supplies.

"We're going through the standard procedures we go through when we know a storm like this is coming," he said. "We'll be ready to deal with whatever the weather brings us."

Hawaiian Airlines said it was planning normal operations for the time being.



Source: (c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by MCT Information Services


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