Officials: Start preparing now for above-normal hurricane season

  • TIM WRIGHT photo/file Hilo’s Bayfront and the entry to Wailoa Center wer flooded in August last year as Hurricane Lane delivered heavy rains, road closures and landslides to the Big Island.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today file photo Debris from a landslide on Akoni Pule Highway in North Kohala sits on the side of the road Aug. 24, 2018.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Still Life Books on Furneaux Lane in downtown Hilo was flooded in August last year by rain from Hurricane Lane.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Flooding debris from Hurricane Lane riddles the soccer fields Aug. 28, 2018, at Hilo Bayfront.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Piihonua resident Margaret Collins looks out over flood damage from Hurricane Lane in the Piihonua neighborhood on Aug. 24, 2018, in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Flooding from Hurricane Lane caused major damage in August last year in the Piihonua neighborhood in Hilo.

  • Hurricane Lane is seen Aug. 22, 2018, from the International Space Station. (RICKY ARNOLD/NASA photo/file)

  • This photo provided by Jessica Henricks shows flooding Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, Wailuku River near Hilo. (Jessica Henricks/via AP)

HILO — Forecasters and government officials on Wednesday urged Hawaii residents to prepare now to weather the effects of a tropical cyclone during hurricane season — which starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

During a Wednesday press conference in Honolulu, Chris Brenchley, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, unveiled the prediction for five to eight tropical cyclones during this year’s hurricane season.

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“This outlook … is for the entire central Pacific and does not specifically address or predict how many of these tropical cyclones will threaten, directly, the state of Hawaii,” Brenchley said.

He added the forecast is “above the normal of four to five” tropical cyclones during hurricane season.

One factor for the higher-than-normal tropical cyclone prediction is a weak El Nino — a weather phenomenon that causes higher ocean surface temperatures.

“There is plenty of warm water out there, both around Hawaii … and also along the equator … ,” Brenchley said. “This El Nino condition is likely to continue through this hurricane season.”

Six cyclones — a category that includes tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes — passed through the central Pacific basin in the 2018 season, with each reaching hurricane strength at some point.

The Big Island was hit especially hard by Hurricane Lane. As it approached the state, the storm intensified to a Category 5 hurricane but weakened as it closed in, passing about 250 miles southwest of the Big Island as a Category 3 storm on Aug. 22. At that time, residents were also dealing with the effects of Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption.

Some parts of East Hawaii recorded more than 4 feet of rain as the storm passed, causing major damage to homes and buildings, mostly from flooding.

“For me, Hurricane Lane was a wake-up call,” said Tom Travis, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator. “… We need to be as prepared as possible, and the community is a key element in that preparation. What can members of the community do? They can prepare their emergency kits and be sure they have 14 days of supplies (and) keep their gas tanks full. It’s important that kit be put together now and maintained throughout hurricane season — avoiding the necessity of long lines at stores and at gas (stations) when the storm approaches.

“And, finally, I ask everyone to stay informed, pay attention to what the weather is and what the threats are.”

Damage to county facilities totaled about $20 million and an estimated 152 homes were damaged, with 59 sustaining major damage, said Managing Director Wil Okabe in the storm’s wake.

Many private homeowners, even those with hurricane insurance, found themselves uncovered because the damage was from flooding, not hurricane-force winds.

“I’d like to underscore that most standard homeowner, business and renter insurance policies don’t cover flood, hurricane and earthquake damage. While hurricane insurance is … important as we enter into this hurricane season, it does not cover flooding,” said Colby Stanton, the Federal Emergency Management Agency regional director of readiness.

Stanton urged homeowners and business owners to contact their insurance agents as soon as possible for hurricane and flood insurance.

“While the recovery process from flooding or any other disaster is daunting, insurance helps,” she noted. “Insured residents are able to recover faster and more fully from a flood than their uninsured neighbors.”

Kevin Kodama, National Weather Service hydrologist, said much of hurricane season coincides with Hawaii’s dry season, which is May through September. And although windward areas of the Big Island are expecting above-normal rainfall during the dry season, “the leeward sections will continue to remain dry,” according to Kodama.

“Because we already have existing drought going on in the leeward areas, we’re anticipating that the drought will expand and worsen,” he said. “… In terms of impacts, we’re already seeing agricultural impacts, especially for the ranchers right now. And we are expecting a more active brush fire season, mainly because we’ve got an early start for the dry season in the leeward areas.”

John Bravender, the hurricane center’s warning coordination meteorologist, said he thinks last year’s multiple natural disasters shook Hawaii residents out of a natural complacency developed “after several near misses.”

“The 2018 hurricane season came … almost as an afterthought to a series of many different natural disasters,” Bravender said. “But it did seem to have an impact on people. And it very much primed the public for preparing for this hurricane season.”

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Recommended items for a survival kit can be found on the American Red Cross website at www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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