Hawaii braced Thursday for its first hurricane in 22 years as Iselle took aim at the Big Island. The fast-moving Category 1 hurricane was expected to lose momentum before hitting the island state, but the storm strengthened instead.
Hurricane Julio is tracking right behind Iselle and the Category 2 storm should hit Hawaii two days after Iselle, according to The New York Times. State officials urged residents to prepare for bad weather and the storm surge along the coast. They noted that the islands were ready for the one-two punch of hurricanes.
Iselle is expected to hit Hawaii’s Big Island Thursday night with heavy rain, winds gusting up to 85 mph, and flooding in some areas. Weather experts initially thought Iselle would weaken to a tropical storm by then, but they saw it gain steam Wednesday afternoon and changed their outlook.
Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, explained to The Times, “What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength.”
Norman Hui, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Honolulu, told USA Today, “The real effects [of Hurricane Iselle] will probably be felt on the Big Island starting around noon. The worst of it will be tonight. This storm is holding together pretty well.”
As of 11 am ET Thursday, Iselle was about 300 miles east of Hilo on the Big Island with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. The skies were overcast in Hilo, but there was no rain. Hui explained that the Big Island’s mountainous volcanoes could provide a buffer for the hurricane hitting Hawaii. Still, the island’s residents and tourists could be in for a show with violent winds, heavy rain, flooding, and a storm surge.
While Hurricane Julio lurks behind Iselle, Hui noted that there’s no guarantee it will hit Hawaii. Its current track sends it just north of Hawaii below hurricane strength, but it is too far away to determine its fate.
Iselle is expected to bring rainfall of between 5 and 8 inches in a short period of time. Cantin noted, “Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around.”
Cantin also noted that the Big Island’s size and terrain will help break Iselle up and weaken it to a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.
Hawaii has only been hit directly by three hurricanes since 1950, though the region has seen 147 tropical cyclones in that time period. Hurricane Iniki was the last to hit Hawaii in 1992. That storm killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai.
[Images: hawaiiglobe.com and NBC News]