A hurricane watch was issued for Honolulu on Thursday, marking the first time a major tropical cyclone has threatened Oahu since Iniki 24 years ago.
In 1992 “Oahu was initially issued a tropical storm warning,” said Eric Lau, a Central Pacific Hurricane Center meteorologist, adding that officials have not found archival evidence a hurricane watch was issued for Oahu at that time.
“As Iniki got closer, it turned into a hurricane warning issued for Oahu. … There was no time to issue a watch. We wanted people to get ready right away.”
On Sept. 11, 1992, Iniki dealt a direct blow to Kauai, killing six people and damaging or destroying 14,350 structures. It also hit Oahu’s Waianae Coast, causing moderate damage, for a total of $2.8 billion in damage to both islands.
At 8 p.m. Thursday, Lester was a major Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and higher gusts. It was centered 545 miles east of Hilo and 745 miles east of Honolulu, moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
Hawaii and Maui counties were already under a hurricane watch, and Oahu was added, as powerful Hurricane Lester approached the state from the east. Under a watch, hurricane wind conditions are possible within 48 hours.
“Every single island has an equal chance of getting hit by a hurricane,” Lau said. “It just depends on its track and the environmental conditions around the storm.”
Lester strengthened Thursday as it passed over warmer waters, but it is expected to weaken into a Category 1 hurricane, with winds between 74 and 95 mph as it moves northwest over cooler waters.
Winds from Hurricane Lester will likely begin moving Friday night over the Big Island and Maui County, then on to Oahu and Kauai on Saturday, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said.
Surf with wave heights of 15 to 25 feet is expected on east shores tonight through Sunday, possibly causing wave run-up and damage to roadways and properties along the coasts.
Harbor entrances and channels will likely also be affected by large waves and strong currents.
Forecasters urged the public not to focus on the exact projected track. “Any small deviation from the forecast track could bring direct and profound impacts to the state, and this possibility must be considered when making preparations,” forecasters said.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell and city officials will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. after receiving an 8 a.m. National Weather Service briefing and determining whether to open shelters, modify schedules or cancel events.
Because it is Labor Day weekend, the city said, all 205 of the city’s campsites (which hold up to 10 people each) are sold out, as well as four large group campsites.
State and local officials encouraged the public to make final preparations while the storm was still at least a day away.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with President Barack Obama to Midway Atoll on Thursday, told reporters that the president spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency official Craig Fugate from Air Force One about hurricane threats in Hawaii and Florida. “In both states FEMA officials have been working extensively over the last several days to mobilize resources in support of local efforts,” Earnest said. “The president asked Administrator Fugate to keep him up to date on response efforts and to alert him if there are any significant unmet needs.”
All public schools in Maui County will shut down at noon today, the Department of Education said. All Big Island schools were to reopen today after being closed Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Tropical Storm Madeline.
“We assessed our school campuses (Thursday) morning, and no damages were reported,” schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said of the 41 Hawaii island public schools. “We will remain vigilant as Hurricane Lester makes its way towards the islands and continue to keep everyone informed of the affects it may have on our schools.”
University of Hawaii Maui College and all other UH facilities on Maui will close at noon, with no events on Saturday either — including the Maui Swap Meet at UH Maui.
Uncertainty over the track that Lester will take prompted the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to close camping and lodging areas in Hawaii island, Maui and Oahu state parks beginning today and possibly through Labor Day, “until conditions warrant allowing these activities,” the department said in a news release.
While state parks will remain open during the day, the gates at Oahu’s Makua Beach (Kaena Point State Park), which normally open at 2 p.m. Fridays, will remain locked through the weekend.
On Maui and Hawaii island, forest reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, natural area reserves, Na Ala Hele hiking trails, forest campgrounds and game management areas will remain closed until further notice.
Teams fanned out across Hawaii County on Thursday to look for any serious damage from Madeline’s close brush with the island, while Civil Defense officials warned residents to remain on guard as Lester approached.
Interim Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Ed Teixeira said there were no reports of significant damage from Madeline, which dumped as much as 8 inches of rain on parts of the island in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Madeline knocked out power to thousands of residents Wednesday, but Hawaii Electric Light Co. had restored service to all about two dozen residents by Thursday morning. Madeline deposited 2.45 inches of rain in the Puna subdivision of Mountain View, and the storm surge flooded roads and cut off homes in Kapoho. Rainfall from Madeline totaled more than 8 inches at Saddle Quarry, 6 inches in Glenwood in Puna and more than 5 inches in the Hilo communities of Piihonua and Waiakea Uka in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. Thursday.