As powerful Hurricane Lane began to unleash some of its fury on Hawaii island Wednesday, government officials farther up the island chain were taking additional steps to brace for potential widespread damage.
Nonessential state and county services and functions — including the state’s public schools and colleges — were being shut down today while dozens of shelters are being opened for those who need a safe place to stay during the storm.
“Some people say we may be overreacting, that perhaps we should hold back,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a midday news conference Wednesday. “But the last thing we want to do is wait to the last minute.”
At 11 p.m. Wednesday, the Category 4 hurricane was slowly churning northward at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. It was being pushed up the western side of the state by the same upper-level winds that are expected to help weaken the storm. It was 235 miles south-southwest of Kailua-Kona and 350 miles south of Honolulu.
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National Weather Service computer models were showing upper-level wind shear becoming quite strong by Friday with trade winds helping to turn the storm to the west just before Lane would have a chance to make landfall on Oahu.
But Central Pacific Hurricane Center forecasters warned that a greater degree of uncertainty lies in Lane’s path at that point, and the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago remained quite vulnerable.
Even if the storm doesn’t make landfall, forecasters predicted Oahu and the other islands face fierce winds, torrential rainfall, huge surf and localized ocean surge, along with other extreme weather that could threaten lives.
The Big Island already was feeling the impact Wednesday afternoon. By 3 p.m. a couple of rain gauges recorded more than 2 inches of rain from Lane’s outer bands, according to forecaster Robert Ballard, and there were reports of lightning strikes.
On Oahu, damaging winds could begin as early as tonight, with dangerous hurricane-force winds expected Friday, forecasters said.
A hurricane warning was called for Oahu at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with hurricane conditions expected in 36 hours.
Meanwhile, Oahu residents continued to crowd stores and clear shelves of food, water and emergency items. The storm was the talk of the town despite a dominating performance by Honolulu Little League, which beat New York 10-0 in the Little League World Series.
Earlier in the day, Gov. David Ige said President Donald Trump approved the disaster declaration he sent him Wednesday in anticipation of possible widespread damage from Hurricane Lane.
The declaration will allow the state to accelerate the mobilization of federal Department of Defense assets in response to the storm, Ige said. In a news conference, Ige said he was putting all nonessential state employees on Oahu and Kauai on leave starting today and also closing state offices. They join their colleagues on Maui and Hawaii counties, who were given leave starting Wednesday.
Ige said the state was also in the process of closing the state’s commercial harbors. Vessels were given the choice of either leaving or staying in place during the storm.
“Harbors are a lifeline,” the governor said. “They are essential for food and products, and we don’t want a vessel being sunk in the harbor, which would limit access of important shipments.”
Additionally, Ige announced that several highways prone to flooding would be closed, including the Kailua-bound lanes of the Pali Highway starting at 8 p.m. today. Zipper Lane and contraflow operations will be suspended today and Friday.
He urged drivers not to venture out into severe weather.
Earlier Wednesday Trump used his favorite form of social media, Twitter, to convey a message about the storm: “Everyone in the path of #HurricaneLane please prepare yourselves, heed the advice of State and local officials, and follow @NWSHono lulu for updates. Be safe!”
Also on Twitter, FEMA strategic planner Michael Lowry said the current forecast for Lane would bring it closer to Oahu than any other hurricane on record.
The last named storm to make landfall on a Hawaiian island was Tropical Storm Darby, which hit the Big Island with 40-mph winds in July 2016.