Nearly 20 inches of rain fell on parts of Hawaii’s Big Island as a powerful hurricane approached the state on Thursday, with flooding and landslides blocking roads and carrying the potential for life-threatening effects, but forecasters said it has weakened to a Category 3 storm.
Hurricane Lane had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph Thursday afternoon and has already shown signs of weakening, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service said at a press conference in Honolulu.
It’s not clear if the hurricane will directly strike the Hawaiian islands, but earlier Thursday officials said that there would be serious effects even if the hurricane does not make landfall. The effects of the hurricane, including hurricane-force and tropical-storm-force winds, extend for dozens of miles from the center, the weather service has said.
“You do not need a direct strike to have major impacts from a hurricane this strong,” emergency response meteorologist Steven Goldstein of the National Weather Service said at a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C. The storm is slowly moving north, and it is expected to pass dangerously close to the Hawaiian islands on Friday.
The slow movement of the storm could mean that heavy rain and other effects are prolonged for Hawaii, officials said. Hawaii County Civil Defense said heavy rainfall was already occurring on the Big Island, and flooding and landslides forced the closure of Highway 19 in Hilo and Honomu, as well as several other roadways, NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu reported. Route 270 on the Big island was also closed due to landslides and flooding, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said.
The center of Hurricane Lane, southwest of the Big Island and south of Oahu, is expected to move north and slow Friday, and then turn to the west Saturday and Sunday. As of 11 p.m. ET, the center of the hurricane was around 240 miles south of Honolulu, and was moving north-northwest at 6 mph.
But the National Weather Service says that the center of the storm “will move over, or dangerously close to portions of the main Hawaiian islands” later Thursday and Friday. The storm is expected to weaken over the next couple of days, but it will remain a hurricane as it approaches the islands.
The last category 5 storm to even come close to Hawaii was Hurricane John in 1994, which skirted 345 miles south of the islands. The last severely damaging hurricane was Iniki, a category 4 storm that killed six people in September 1992.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued an emergency declaration for Hawaii, which authorizes federal assistance to the region. The president tweeted on Thursday: “Our teams are closely coordinating with the state and local authorities. You are in our thoughts!”
Hurricane warnings were in effect for Oahu and Maui County. The outlook for the Big Island of Hawaii was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, according to the National Weather Service. ” … Flooding is still a major concern,” the agency tweeted.
Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said five people were rescued from a flooded house in Hilo after a nearby gulch overflowed. No injuries were reported.
A hurricane watch was in place for Kauai County, including the islands of Kauai and Niihau, the weather service said.
Public schools have been canceled and Honolulu’s mayor announced Wednesday that all public parks would be closed. Some visitors who made long-anticipated trips even knowing about the possibility of the hurricane said the storm was putting a crimp in their plans.
Jamie and Kelly Marontate from Windsor in Ontario, Canada, said they had been planning a vacation to Hawaii for a year with their family.
The airline offered to change their flights for free, “but we had spent a fortune to come” and they didn’t want to risk losing the money from the hotels, a cruise and planned excursions, Kelly Marontate said.
“Pearl Harbor we were supposed to go to, and now we can’t even go there, so we’re kind of trying to maneuver some things, but I don’t even know exactly what we’re even going to be able to do,” she said on a beach in the Waikiki Beach area. “But, we’re here.”
“My son wants to do a fishing charter, but we’re going to see. We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of days,” Kelly Marontate said.
United Airlines said it was canceling flights for Friday in and out of Kahului Airport on Maui due to weather conditions. It scheduled to additional flights from Honolulu to San Francisco on Thursday, and encouraged people who are traveling to or through affected areas to take advantage of policies where change fees and differences in fares are waived.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Thursday that the forecast showing a 90-degree turn over the next 48 to 72 hours means there is some uncertainty to the path of the hurricane.
“What is for sure, though, is that Hawaii is going to be impacted by Hurricane Lane, the question is how bad,” Long said. “Right now, the system is really setting up to be a significant rain event — torrential rains; forecasters are predicting over 30 inches in some parts.”
“We’re extremely concerned about the potentials for inland flooding, landslides occurring, and damage to the transportation [and] communications infrastructure,” he said.
Hurricane-force winds are forecast to extend for 35 miles from the center of the hurricane, and tropical-storm-force winds could extend up to 140 miles from the center, the weather service said. Tropical storm conditions were expected on Oahu, where the city of Honolulu is located, late Thursday, with hurricane conditions expected Friday and into Friday night.
Heavy rain could cause “significant and life-threatening flash flooding and landslides” on the Hawaiian Islands into the weekend, the weather service said, and there is the potential for large swells that could produce damaging surf along southern shorelines, and storm surge and large waves could raise water levels by 2 to 4 feet along south- and west-facing shores.