Hawaii expected to be in path of fewer hurricanes this year
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
The central Pacific should see only two or three tropical cyclones this hurricane season — fewer than normal — but federal and state officials yesterday pleaded with everyone to be ready for the Big One.
Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday proclaimed that the annual Hurricane Preparedness Week will be May 24-30 this year, and urged Island residents to remember the lessons of 1992's Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kaua'i.
"We just don't have the resources right after a hurricane to get to your particular family and to help every single family in those immediate hours right after the hurricane," Lingle said. "The burden is on you for your own family. ... The government is going to get there as quickly as they can."
An average hurricane season in the central Pacific typically means the arrival of four to five tropical cyclones, an umbrella term for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.
But this season's projections call for a 70 percent chance of a below-normal season of two to three tropical cyclones, a 25 percent chance of a normal season, and a 5 percent chance of six or more tropical cyclones, said Jim Weyman, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
This year's lower-than-normal forecast is based on expectations that fewer hurricanes will move into the central Pacific from the eastern Pacific, and cooler waters will form in the equatorial Pacific from La Niña conditions, Weyman said.
Hurricane season in the Pacific begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
While the number of expected tropical cyclones is relatively low, the forecast seems to follow a general trend of fewer systems in the 1950s through 1970s, an increase in the 1970s through 1990s and a decrease from the 1990s through now, Weyman said.
But there certainly have been exceptions, such as Iniki — and three hurricanes last year that put the Islands on alert.
The closest and scariest was Hurricane Felicia, which bore down on Hawai'i in August and sent thousands of residents scrambling for emergency supplies before Felicia fizzled out just before reaching the southern edge of the Big Island.
The most powerful hurricane last year, Neki, posed no major threat to the main Hawaiian Islands. But Neki caused U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Honolulu to fear for the safety of workers in the remote Northwest Hawaiian Islands, said Barry Stieglitz, head of Fish and Wildlife's Pacific refuges project.
Last year's hurricane season forecast was for three to five tropical cyclones — and seven actually materialized.
On Tuesday, Lingle signed a bill into law that authorizes the director of state Civil Defense to work with Honolulu officials to develop a disaster preparedness plan specifically for the Nānākuli and Wai'anae state House districts along the Leeward Coast.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Karen Awana, D-44th, (Honokai Hale, Nānākuli, Lualualei), proposes a disaster preparedness plan for the Leeward Coast. That coast has one highway leading into and out of the area, a large homeless population, elderly residents with limited access to disaster shelters, and many residents who rely on public transportation.
"A disaster preparedness plan is so critical to our community," Awana said in a statement. "If a major disaster closes the road, this places our people in serious jeopardy. We need to have a plan in place so that we are prepared to deal with the inevitable disaster that will strike. It's a matter of health and safety."
Yesterday, Lingle reminded all Island residents not to become complacent and to use the annual Hurricane Preparedness Week to get ready for the worst.
Hurricanes have cost the state more money than any other kind of natural disaster, she said.
And since 1959, the central Pacific has seen 63 hurricanes, 49 tropical storms and 58 tropical depressions, Lingle said.
Lingle then recalled the night that Iniki made landfall on Kaua'i in 1992 and urged everyone to learn from those lessons.
"I know it's been a while now," she said. "Some of the young people don't remember it at all. We need to make it real for them. They need to understand how serious this issue is."