Julio was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane Friday and was expected to show further weakening as it follows a northerly path that could leave Hawaii free of its potentially destructive impacts.
But officials continued to stress Friday that it’s too early to tell Julio’s effect on the state.
The storm Friday night was more than 600 miles east of Hilo traveling at 16 mph in a north-by-northwest direction with hurricane-force winds blasting outward up to 35 miles and tropical storm-force winds outward up to 115 miles.
Julio’s maximum sustained winds Friday night were near 100 mph with stronger gusts, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu.
Models show Julio being undercut by upper-level wind shear and downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning, then maintaining its hurricane status as it moves 200 miles northeast of Hawaii island Sunday morning, forecasters said.
Wind shear is expected to attack the storm’s structure and weaken it Monday, helping to demote Julio into a tropical storm with sustained winds of 74 mph or less as it passes the rest of the islands to the north, they said.
Could the storm change course and make landfall on Hawaii island like Tropical Storm Iselle?
"You can never rule that out," said Eric Lau, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "It depends on the larger-scale environment."
For now, Julio is being steered on a northwesterly track by a low-pressure system north of the islands that is pushing against the seasonal high-pressure system to the northeast.
That would mean Hawaii wouldn’t experience any hurricane-force winds, Lau said, and instead face high surf and heavy rain on the storm’s periphery.
More rain is a concern for officials worried about the one-two punch of Iselle and Julio. Earlier they warned Julio could exacerbate conditions left by Iselle, including the possibility of creating new flooding and mudslide threats and blowing of loose debris and tree branches.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the state government is prepared to respond if Julio becomes a threat.
In fact, officials may be in a better position to jump into action, having just done so for Iselle.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Cantin urged people to keep the water and supplies they purchased for Iselle and save them in case Hurricane Julio turns Hawaii’s way.
"The impacts could be real, and we’re going to be watching it," he said.