Update 2 a.m.
Hurricane Lester continued its west-northwest track as it passed northeast of the Big Island early Saturday morning.
Lester was 170 miles east-northeast of Hilo and 300 miles east of Honolulu at 2 a.m., still packing maximum sustained winds of 100 mph and moving west-northwest at 15 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 150 miles.
Forecasters expect Lester to continue weakening gradually over the next 48 hours but warn that large swells, strong winds and heavy rains are possible. Maui County and Oahu remain under hurricane watch.
Update 11 p.m.
Hurricane Lester gradually weakened tonight and continued to track west-northwest at 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 150 miles.
Forecasters at 11 p.m. tracked Lester about 205 miles east-northeast of Hilo and about 355 miles east of Honolulu.
Maui County and Oahu remain under a hurricane watch.
Update 8 p.m.
Hurricane Lester continued to move toward the west-northwest at 14 mph, still packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph.
Forecasters expect the Category 2 hurricane to continue with this general motion through Saturday night and gradually turn toward the northwest on Sunday.
Lester was located about 240 miles east-northeast of Hilo and about 410 miles east of Honolulu, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 40 miles and tropical storm-force winds extending up to 140 miles from the center.
A hurricane watch remains in effect for Maui County and Oahu.
Gradual weakening is forecast through the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
Update 5 p.m.
Hurricane Lester maintained its intensity and its course late this afternoon, still packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph and moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
The Category 2 hurricane was 270 miles east-northeast of Hilo and 450 miles east of Honolulu at 5 p.m. today. The storm is continuing on a track that will take it north of the islands over Labor Day weekend, bringing high surf, and possible strong winds and heavy rain to some areas.
Hurricane-force winds extend out 40 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds extend 140 miles. Gradual weakening is forecast over the next 48 hours.
“A hurricane watch remains in place for Oahu and Maui County, as the official forecast still brings the system close to portions of the main Hawaiian Islands,” forecasters with the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. Since the storm last night began taking a west-northwest track, “probabilities for tropical storm and hurricane conditions have been dropping slowly,” they said late this afternoon.
Still, forecasters warn the public to monitor weather forecasts because the storm’s path can change and because “impacts from hurricanes can occur well away from the center.”
Besides the hurricane watch, a high surf warning is in effect for eastern shores of all islands through Sunday 6 a.m.
The National Weather Service’s statewide forecast for this weekend says conditions will be highly variable from one location to another. “The potential for strong winds and heavy rains exists across the area where a hurricane watch is in effect. Breezy to locally windy conditions can also be expected over some locations outside of the watch area. Very high surf along east-facing shores may also cause some inundation problems along low-lying areas, especially at times of high tide,” the forecast warns.
Lester is the second major storm to threaten the islands this week. Madeline, which brushed just south of the Big Island Wednesday as a tropical storm, dissipated this afternoon well south of the state.
Update 4:20 p.m.
East-facing shores of all islands are under a high surf warning until 6 a.m. Sunday.
The National Weather Service added Kauai and Oahu to the warning this afternoon. Surf is expected to be 10 to 15 feet by tonight and 15 to 20 feet by Saturday.
Forecasters say surging water could inundate coastal properties and roadways.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources temporarily closed the Makapuu Tidepools path at Kaiwi State Scenic shoreline due to anticipated storm-generated waves of up to 30 feet. On Tuesday and Wednesday, water safety personnel rescued two men in their mid-20’s in severe distress after being swept out to sea below the tide pools.
Update 2:55 p.m.
Hawaii County officials say they will open two shelters — at Pahoa Community Center and Kawananakoa Gym in Keaukaha — at 5 p.m. because of expected high surf from Hurricane Lester.
The National Weather Service forecasts surf up to 25 feet for Big Island eastern shores and a high surf advisory remains in effect until 6 p.m. It will be replaced with a high surf warning for eastern Big Island shores from 6 p.m. today until 6 p.m. Saturday.
Lester is expected to pass north of the island overnight.
Update 2:20 p.m.
Hurricane Lester remains a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, and continues on a course that will take it north of the Hawaiian islands.
At 2 p.m., according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Lester was 305 miles east of Hilo and 490 miles east of Honolulu, moving west-northwest at 15 mph. Hurricane-force winds extend out 45 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds, of 39 mph or more, extend 140 miles.
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Gradual weakening is expected over the next 48 hours but Lester is expected to remain a hurricane as it passes to the north of the islands this weekend. The National Weather Service said the storm is expected to pass about 125 miles northeast of the islands.
Strong winds and heavy rains are still possible tonight and Saturday for Maui County and Oahu, which remain under a hurricane watch.
Maui and Honolulu officials say they are ready to open shelters and institute other emergency measures and closures, but so far have no immediate plans to do so. Government and hurricane center officials urge the public to remain vigilant and to monitor weather reports.
Update 12:50 p.m.
Maui County officials said today that emergency shelters have been placed on standby and will be opened if necessary as Hurricane Lester passes north of the islands.
Lester is not forecast to directly hit any Hawaiian island, but will pass north of the state, forecasters say. Maui County and Oahu remain under a hurricane watch.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also said city officials are ready to open six shelters if needed, but had no immediate plans to do so. (See 10:15 a.m. update below.)
On Maui, officials warned the public that “large and dangerous swells are anticipated throughout the weekend along all east-facing shores in Maui County, with intermittent high surf along north-facing shores. Beach-goers are asked to exercise caution and follow any posted warnings.”
“Maui County is still under a hurricane watch, so we are asking everyone to continue to stay alert and informed,” said Maui County Emergency Management Officer Anna Foust. “We’re not completely out of harm’s way until Lester passes through the islands, so we will continue to monitor this system closely.”
Hana Bay has been closed today and Saturday, but Maui County parks, beach parks, pools and other facilities will remain open this weekend, weather permitting, officials said.
Baldwin Beach Park may be closed Saturday because of erosion that has damaged the pavilion area. County crews will evaluate the situation in the morning and determine whether or not to close the park, officials said.
Update 11 a.m.
Hurricane watches remained in effect for Oahu and Maui County as Hurricane Lester continued on a course to pass north of the state over the Labor Day weekend.
Maximum winds were 105 mph, unchanged from the last update at 8 a.m. The storm was moving west-northwest at 15 mph and was centered 345 miles east of Hilo and 530 miles east of Honolulu, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Hurricane-force winds extend out 45 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds, of 39 mph or more, extend 140 miles.
The National Weather Service said the storm is expected to pass about 125 miles northeast of the islands this weekend.
While its forecast path remains north of the islands as a weakening hurricane, Lester is still expected to bring high surf, rain, breezy conditions and muggy weather to the state starting tonight.
In addition to the hurricane watch for Oahu and Maui County, a high surf warning is in effect for eastern shores of the Big Island, Maui and Molokai until 6 p.m., while the eastern shores of Kauai and Oahu are under a high surf advisory until 6 a.m. Saturday.
Update 10:15 a.m.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell this morning urged Oahu residents to remain on alert for high winds and high surf related to Hurricane Lester, but more details about weekend closures and warnings won’t be known until Saturday morning.
As Lester continued on a track that is unlikely to make landfall on Oahu, Caldwell urged residents to nevertheless remain on alert and stay off the roads unless necessary.
“We’re not letting our guard down,” Caldwell said at a news conference at the city’s emergency operations center. “We’re going to continue to plan just in case.”
Lester’s biggest impact on Oahu likely will be felt Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning.
“The real onslaught” should be felt between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Sunday, he said.
Caldwell said the city is not opening shelters and will not cancel Labor Day weekend camping permits, at least not yet.
The city will open shelters and evacuate campsites on Oahu if it becomes necessary, he said.
“It’s going to be a wet weekend. We’ll get some rain,” Caldwell said.
Surf will also be elevated and dangerous this weekend, the mayor said.
But Hanauma Bay will remain open unless conditions change significantly.
The National Weather Service dropped a hurricane watch for Hawaii County as Hurricane Lester continued on a path that should take it north of the main Hawaiian islands, but still bring it close enough to generate dangerous surf and rain.
At 8 a.m., Lester was 395 miles east of Hilo and 580 miles east of Honolulu. It’s sustained winds dropped to 105 mph, still a Category 2 storm, with hurricane-force winds extending 45 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds going out 140 miles from the center.
The forecast track for Lester narrowed and the storm is taking a sharper turn north than in previous forecasts. The main Hawaiian islands are no longer in the forecast track for the storm. However, the track could still change and a hurricane watch continues for Maui County and Oahu.
Forecasters said the unexpected strength of Lester contributed to its more northerly course.
“Stronger storms have a tendency to move to the right (north),” said Ian Morrison, a meteorologist with the Honolulu office of the National Weather Service.
Forecasters no longer expect tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph or greater, but winds will still be gusty and will shift direction as the storm progresses up the island chain.
Forecasters caution that the track of the storm could still change and a slight shift south could mean more significant effects for Maui County, Oahu and Kauai County.
Deep tropical moisture around the hurricane will likely bring increasing showers tonight for Maui County, with the possibility of locally heavy downpours or thundershowers developing this weekend, forecasters said. Oahu could see similar weather Saturday.
“Although the forecast track currently keeps the strongest winds and heaviest rains offshore, the local weather will be highly dependent on the exact track that Lester takes as it passes by. Only a small error on the left side of the forecast track would bring a significantly higher threat of damaging winds and flooding rains to the islands.”
Forecasters expect a mix of rains that could be locally heavy, breezy winds, sunshine and humidity through Sunday.
The most significant impact from Lester is expected to be high surf, forecasters said. The National Weather Service posted a high surf warning for east shores of Hawaii, Maui and Molokai starting at 6 p.m. A high surf advisory remains in effect until 6 p.m. today for east shores of most islands.
Surf of 6 to 8 feet is expected to rise to 8 to 12 feet today as waves generated by Lester come ashore.
Surf in the warning areas is expected to rise to 10 to 18 feet this afternoon and 15 to 25 feet tonight on east shores of Hawaii island. Surf is expected to reach 20 to 35 feet along east shores of Maui and Molokai.
“It’s going to be life-threatening surf,” Morrison said.
Forecasters said beach-goers should expect strong, breaking waves, shore break and rip currents that could make swimming difficult and dangerous.
“Hurricane Lester is forecast to approach the state from the east today, and then pass to the northeast of all the main islands this weekend,” the weather service said. “Lester will pass by the Big island early Saturday morning, Maui County on Saturday, Oahu Saturday evening and Kauai Saturday night.”
For Oahu, winds will initially shift to the north tonight into Saturday, to the northwest and west as the storm passes Oahu Saturday night, and become southerly Kona winds on Sunday.
The southerly winds will bring up tropical moisture from the south, bringing muggy weather and the threat of afternoon showers on Sunday.
The cooling tradewinds should return early next week.
Meanwhile, Madeline weakened to a tropical depression southwest of the main Hawaiian islands.
At 5 a.m., Madeline was 445 miles southwest of Honolulu, with sustained winds of 35 mph, moving west at 16 mph. The storm, which brushed just south of the Big Island Wednesday as a tropical storm, is expected to become a remnant low tonight.
Star-Advertiser reporter Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.