Willis Sanchez leaves the local hardware store with sheets of plywood to board up his windows as a hurricane and a tropical storm approach the Hawaiian islands, in Mililani, Hawaii, August 5, 2014. A hurricane and a tropical storm are heading west across the Pacific Ocean toward the tourist haven of Hawaii and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said parts of the islands may need to post watches later on Tuesday. Hurricane Iselle was about 1,055 miles (1,700 km) east-southeast of Hawaii, moving west at 9 miles per hour (15 km per hour) with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (200 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. Further east over the Pacific, Tropical Storm Julio was about 1,145 miles (1,845 km) from Baja California in Mexico and also expected to continue moving west-northwest through Thursday, the NHC said. Hugh Gentry/Reuters
Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn't — and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years. Tracking close behind it was Hurricane Julio, which strengthened early Thursday into a Category 2 storm.
State officials are assuring the islands are ready and people should prepare but not panic.
Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island on Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to 135 km/h and flooding in some areas. Weather officials changed their outlook on the system Wednesday after seeing it get a little stronger, giving it enough oomph to stay a hurricane as it reaches landfall.
"What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength," said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.
Cantin said that means stronger winds of about 95 to 110 km/h, though rainfall estimates of 12 cm to 20 cm in a short time frame remained unchanged.
"Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around," he said.
Iselle loomed about 560 km east of Hilo early Thursday, with sustained winds of 135 km/h and travelling about 30 km/h.
Canadians to avoid non-essential travel
Cantin said the Big Island's size and terrain would help break up the hurricane, making it only a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.
"The volcanoes on the Big Island will do a number on the system," he said.
Hurricane Julio, meanwhile, swirled closely behind with maximum winds whipping at 160 km/h. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to strengthen even more Thursday before gradually weakening by Thursday night. That weakening is expected to continue into the weekend.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, said meteorologist Eric Lau.
Canadians on Wednesday were told to avoid non-essential travel to Hawaii because of the storms.
"Canadians seeking emergency consular assistance in the area should contact the Consulate General of Canada in San Francisco or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa," the department said on its website.
Hawaiian Airlines said it will waive reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who need to alter travel plans because of the storms. The airline said fees will be waived for those who are ticketed to travel on Thursday and Friday. They will be allowed to change reservations for flights through Aug. 12.
El Niño year
The clustered storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Niño, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
Much of Hawaii's archipelago was under a tropical storm watch or warning. Residents were stocking up on essentials, and weather officials asked the whole state to prepare for flash flooding.
The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes, said Eric Lau, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical cyclones this year.
"The central Pacific doesn't see nearly the activity that the Atlantic sees," said James Franklin, chief of hurricane specialists for the National Hurricane Center.
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