Gov. David Ige Thursday issued an emergency disaster declaration ahead of the anticipated arrival this weekend of Hurricane Douglas.
Forecasters expect the storm to move near or over portions of the Hawaiian Islands this weekend, bringing the threat of strong winds, heavy rainfall and dangerous surf and storm surge starting Sunday morning for the Big Island. Watches could be issued as early as today.
Conditions could begin to deteriorate across the state as early as Saturday night, said Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Bravender with the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu.
“So, if you need to prepare, you want to take care of that (today) or Saturday. You want to be done by Saturday night because conditions will deteriorate rapidly,” Bravender said during a Thursday evening live-streamed press conference.
As of 5 a.m. Friday, the fast-moving Category 3 hurricane was located 895 miles east-southeast of Hilo and circulating 120 mph winds as it tracked west-northwest at 18 mph, said Bravender.
Gradual weakening is forecast to begin today and continue through Saturday, however, Bravender cautioned forecasters anticipate Douglas will remain at or near hurricane strength as it approaches the Big Island. The current forecast track, which Bravender cautioned three days out can be off by over 100 miles, takes the storm right over the center of the state.
On Sunday morning, forecasters expect Douglas to be located 120 miles east of Hilo packing 75 mph winds, which is 2 mph above a tropical storm. By Sunday evening, the storm’s expected to be located 60 miles north of Kailua-Kona, passing over North Kohala, packing 70 mph winds.
“Even though the forecast might have Douglas as a tropical storm as it moves through the state, we should prepare for hurricane-force conditions in case that it is slower to weaken,” Bravender said Thursday evening.
Those conditions include “extremely damaging winds,” heavy rainfall, high surf and storm surge, he said. Those living on the coast, particularly along east-facing shores, should prepare for “very, very dangerous” surf and storm surge.
“We could see rainfall amounts of several inches somewhere across the state with localized amounts into the double-digits,” Bravender said, adding the storm packs a lot of moisture. “It’s too early to get very specific with those details or the areas that would be affected because it’s very dependent on the track (of the storm). A few adjustments north or south would vary who sees those largest impacts.
“So at this point, all residents should be preparing for Hurricane Douglas and getting ready while conditions are nice across the state over the next two days,” he continued.
The U.S. Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters, based out of Mississippi is scheduled to fly through the storm today to center-point the location of the storm and provide other information, including intensity and width of the storm.
“We’ll get that information every six hours and that sill help us refine the original forecast so we will know how far out these tropical storm-force or hurricane-force winds extend out from the center,” Bravender said.
Ige’s signing of the proclamation is in preparation for possible impacts from the tropical cyclone and “authorizes the expenditure of state funds for the quick and efficient relief of disaster-related damage, losses and suffering that may result from the storm.” The relief period will remain in effect through July 31.
“Our top priority is always the safety, health and well-being of our residents and visitors. Please take immediate steps to protect your families, loved ones, employees and property. We ask everyone to closely follow emergency instructions as we prepare for Hurricane Douglas,” Ige said in a press release.
Ige and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) on Thursday urged residents to prepare now, reminding every one to have an “emergency kit” with a minimum of 14 days of food, water, medicine and other supplies. The kit should also include face masks and hand sanitizer amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We advocate for a 14-day recommendation because of Hawaii’s location in the Pacific during a disaster,” said Luke Meyers, administrator of HI-EMA. “Everyone who plans ahead and prepares an emergency kit helps not only themselves, but they also help their entire community deal with a disaster.”
Officials urged residents to shelter in place or with a friend as the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce capacity at emergency shelters due to social distancing and other requirements. Shelter openings on the Big Island will be coordinated by Hawaii County Civil Defense and the American Red Cross.
“We’ll be managing both incidents at the same time, but we urge residents to take into account that due to the necessary physical distancing measures put into place by the pandemic, shelters will not be able to operate at their usual capacity. Occupancy in shelters will be lower,” said Meyers.
Meanwhile Thursday, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, Civil Defense and other federal, state and county agencies, along with private entities, met at the Civil Defense Agency’s Emergency Operations Center in Hilo for an orientation briefing.
Kim said in a prepared statement issued in the afternoon that the session was aimed at getting staff familiar with the background regarding the storm as it approached the Central Pacific.
The county also announced it is closing Waipio Valley to the public starting at 7 a.m. Saturday until further notice. Special duty officers and Waipio Valley Rangers will be on site at the top of the road leading into the valley to ensure valley access is restricted to local traffic only (residents, landowners and farmers). Local traffic will be allowed to pass through, one vehicle at a time.
Hawaii’s utilities meanwhile Thursday announced they are preparing for the storm’s anticipated arrival and urged their customers and the public to do likewise.
“The company is closely monitoring Hurricane Douglas’ movement to move crews and equipment to areas most likely to be affected. Forecasts show that wind and heavy rain could reach Hawaii Island on Sunday morning. Impacts to the other islands are expected as early as Sunday afternoon,” Hawaiian Electric Co. said in a press release issued Thursday.
The company advised home health care patients to discuss emergency plans with their physicians or agency representative beforehand and make appropriate arrangements now. That includes making prior arrangements with a hospital or emergency facility to stay there if you must evacuate.
Hawaii Gas said Thursday crews were topping-off gas supplies for hospitals, first responders and other essential facilities to ensure continued operations. Propane tank refilling stations for 20-pound barbecue grill cylinders are also being filled statewide.
The company advised gas customers to not turn off their gas, as gas can provide a means of heating water and cooking food during a power outage. Only customers who are directed by state or county emergency management officials to evacuate their premises should turn off their gas at the meter or tank.
Also Thursday, Hawaii’s congressional delegation also sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for immediate federal assistance and resources as the storm approaches the state.
The letter — signed by U.S. Reps Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case, and U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz — notes that state resources already are stretched thin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter requests federal personnel, medical support, shelter facilities, food and water, and more.
“With the time remaining before the forecasted landfall, we can take steps that will improve outcomes for Hawaii residents. Close coordination among federal, state, and county officials will make it possible to have supplies, personnel, and plans in place for Hurricane Douglas. Federal support is especially critical at this juncture because so many state and county emergency management and response personnel are already committed to the COVID pandemic,” the delegation wrote in the letter.