4 to 7 hurricanes predicted: Hawaii officials remind public to get prepared for storm season

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As El Nino conditions continue to develop in equatorial Pacific waters, Hawaii residents are advised to prepare for a busier hurricane season than in recent years, as well as the possibility of a prolonged drought.

Those were the takeaways Thursday from a combination dry season/tropical cyclone season briefing conducted by the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

The Central Pacific hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The warmer Pacific Ocean associated with El Nino has forecasters expecting a “near- to above-normal” hurricane season for waters around Hawaii, said Chris Brenchley, the director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. That amounts to four to seven tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific Basin, but that’s not necessarily a prediction any actually will come ashore.

Noting that only one named storm, Hurricane Darby, crossed into the Central Pacific last year and dissipated south of the Big Island without doing damage, Brenchley expressed concern the lack of tropical cyclone activity “may have lulled us to let our guards down.”

“As we see an upswing in activity this season, it’s more important than ever to do your emergency plan and your emergency kit. And that you know where to get the official information as the information comes out,” Brenchley said.

Typhoon Mawar this week left most of Guam without power or clean water after slamming into the island of 170,000 residents with 150 mph winds, which Brenchley used as a reminder that it “only takes one” direct hit from a tropical cyclone to wreak widespread havoc.

Gov. Josh Green, who also took part in the briefing, also highlighted Guam, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific with a number of American military installations.

“When you see cars roll over, when you see pieces of concrete fly off from buildings, you know that there’s a potential loss of life. You know that it’s a very serious thing,” he said.

Green said he spoke by phone Wednesday to Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

“She was standing in several inches of water in her governor’s residence,” Green said. “So, it impacts all of us. It’s very serious.”

Perhaps miraculously, no fatalities or major injuries were reported on Guam due to Mawar.

Hawaii officials advise residents to have a 14-day supply of nonperishable food for the family and pets, clean water, medications, plus battery powered flashlights and radios as part of their emergency kits. Details can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/2xwh9m65.

“Please do take these recommendations to heart,” Green said. “Please have 14 days of water, have food available. Know where you will go if there is a storm and you’re asked to go and shelter in a safe place. Know where your medicine is, that you have enough medication in case we end up getting cut off from our pharmacies. Know that you can communicate with your loved ones, but not as completely as you always do.”

The dry season started May 1 and ends Sept. 30 for most of Hawaii, and according to Kevin Kodama, senior service hydrologist at NWS Honolulu, El Nino is also predicted to bring a drier-than-normal dry season with the potential for severe-to-extreme drought.

”The Climate Prediction Center is predicting, actually, below average rainfall for the dry season,” Kodama said. “Note that this is a bit different, because normally at the onset of El Nino, we’re expecting our dry season to have above-average rainfall. But this year is different.

“It’s not unprecedented. It’s happened before, most recently in 2009, where we ended up with the ninth-driest dry season in 30 years, even though that was the onset summer for an El Nino.”

Kodama said drought is likely “to develop at some point during the summer and to progressively get worse.”

“By the end of the dry season, we’re fully expecting that we’re going to have some severe and possibly extreme drought again, especially in the leeward areas of the Big Island and Maui County,” he said. “With El Nino, that probably means the drought is going to extend through the … next wet season and into the next dry season. So if 2009 and 2010 is an analogue, that was one of the worst droughts we’ve had in the last 30 to 50 years.”

“It’s probably going to be worse for the nonirrigated agricultural community. So your ranch livestock, your ranch land forage, that’s going to be impacted the most and also the fastest. And also water systems dependent upon stream water divergence … and residents that rely on water catchment systems — a lot of those in the Puna district on the Big Island, they’re going to be impacted.”

Kodama said the ample wet season for most of Hawaii could mean the start of wildfire season could be delayed somewhat, “but that’s going to be going rapidly uphill during the summer season as the dryness occurs.”

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