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Ignacio to become major hurricane; Jimena strengthens

    This composite satellite image shows Tropical Storm Kilo (lower left) to the southwest of Hawaii, Hurricane Ignacio ( right lower center) and Tropical Storm Jimenez (lower right).
    After three days, computer models differ widely over the potential path of Tropical Storm Ignacio. Forecasters caution that people should follow the official forecast from the National Weather Service and not focus on individual computer models.

Tropical Storm Jimena formed in the East Pacific on Wednesday as Ignacio strengthened into the seventh hurricane of the 2015 eastern north Pacific season.

Ignacio is on a path to enter the Central Pacific on Thursday, become a category 3 hurricane over the weekend before weakening, and potentially pass over or close to the Hawaiian Islands early next week.

At 5 a.m. Thursday, Ignacio was packing sustained winds of 90 mph about 1,135 miles east-southeast of Hilo, moving west-northwest at 13 mph. Hurricane-force winds extend 25 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 60 miles.

“Ignacio should remain over warm sea surface temperatures and in an environment of light vertical wind shear for at least the next two days, which should allow continued strengthening to a major hurricane,” forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Thursday. “After that time, the cyclone should encounter increasing westerly shear and move over slightly cooler water, which should start a gradual weakening.”

Forecasters said it is still too early to know what the impact of Ignacio will be on Hawaii’s weather. The storm could still pass further north or south of the islands.

“There is so much variability right now,” said Leigh Anne Eaton, a meteorologist with the Honolulu office of the National Weather Service, said Wednesday. “After day 3, the track error is so great and we are such a small target .”

The margin of error on five-day forecast tracks is about 300 miles.

The storms in the Pacific are bringing surf to the islands. A west-northwest swell is bringing 3-to 6-foot surf to west shores and should bring 6- to 9-foot surf to north shores by Friday. Surf from Ignacio could bring advisory-level surf to east shores Monday and possible warning-level surf by Wednesday. But the size of the wave will depend on Ignacio’s intensity and track.

Tropical Storm Jimena, the 10th tropical storm to form in the East Pacific this season, was about 900 miles south-southwest of Baja California at 8 a.m. Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. The storm was moving west-northwest at 17 mph. 

Jimena is forecast to become a hurricane on Friday and intensify into a powerful category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 mph this weekend. But so far, Jimena is not a threat to land.

“It’s the same drill. This is a very active tropical cyclone season because of El Nino and we will probably continue to see numerous storms develop in the East Pacific and Central Pacific and people need to be prepared,” said Chevy Chevalier, a meteorologist with the Honolulu office of the National Weather Service.

Southwest of Hawaii, Tropical Storm Kilo remained nearly stationary Thursday morning, about 100 miles northeast of Johnston Island and 630 miles west-southwest of Barking Sands, Kauai, with sustained winds of 65 mph. 

A tropical storm watch is posted for Johnston Island.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Kilo was moving west-southwest, away from Hawaii, at 1 mph and was expected to take westerly path Friday as the storm strengthens into a hurricane by Saturday. Tropical storm force winds extend 60 miles from the center.

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