Back-to-Back Hurricanes Menace Hawaii Amid Tourist Season

Aug 07, 2014 3:13 pm ET

(Update position in second paragraph.)

Aug. 7 (Bloomberg) -- A pair of hurricanes bearing down on Hawaii has grounded flights and closed visitor areas while threatening floods, landslides and blackouts during the heart of tourist season.

Hurricane Iselle’s top winds are 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour, down from 85 mph, and it was 255 miles east-southeast of Hilo as of 8 a.m. local time, the U.S. Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. It is forecast to strike the Big Island overnight, and if it retains hurricane strength it would be the first such system to hit Hawaii since 1992.

Farther to the east, Hurricane Julio grew stronger, with top winds reaching 105 mph, making it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. It was 1,235 miles east of Hilo.

“Iselle is down to a Category 1; it continues to move pretty quickly,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “It will be making landfall this evening Hawaiian Standard Time. They will have winds exceeding 75 miles per hour, especially at the high elevations, and possible widespread and long-lasting power outages.”

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s storm preparations included shutting off gas lines to outdoor tiki torches and moving food and beverage service indoors, Stephanie Dowling, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mail. It also waived cancellation fees for guests whose travel plans are affected by the storms.

Tourism Peak

Tourism in Hawaii tends to peak in June, July and August, when schools are shut for vacation, Ken Rewick, vice president of flight operations for Hawaiian Airlines Inc., said by telephone from the company’s headquarters in Honolulu.

Island Air scrubbed all flights tomorrow and intends to return to its regular schedule on Aug. 9, the airline said on its website. It is owned by Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison’s Ohana Airline Holdings LLC.

The U.S. National Park Service will close its Hawai’i Volcanoes visitor center and museum at 1 p.m. Backcountry areas and roads in the area have also been shut in the park that receives about 1.6 million tourists per year. The state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife shut its hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and reserves on the Big Island and Maui.

The Pride of America, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., will set sail at 7 p.m. to avoid Iselle, AnneMarie Mathews, a spokeswoman for the Miami-based company, said by e-mail. The ship had been scheduled to stay overnight in Kauai.

Alerts Posted

A hurricane warning was issued for the Big Island of Hawaii and its surrounding waters, according to the local National Weather Service office. A tropical storm warning is in place for the rest of the state, as well as a flash flood watch.

“Very large and damaging surf is expected to rapidly build along east- and south-facing shores today and tonight, especially on the Big Island,” the central Pacific center said in an advisory. “The combination of dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising water.”

Walker said there’s a possibility Iselle will continue to lose strength and strike as a strong tropical storm, still a powerful system.

Volcano Interaction

There’s also a chance the volcanoes on the Big Island may weaken Iselle as it approaches, Walker said. The mountains reach 13,677 feet (4,169 meters), according to the National Park Service.

Julio may drift north and miss the islands over the weekend, according to hurricane center track forecasts. Computer models show it curving to the north and losing strength as it nears the island chain, Walker said.

It is rare for two storms to threaten Hawaii so close together.

Storms tend to “come in clusters but this close is not typical,” Rewick, said. “Julio seems to be taking a more northerly track, which for the islands is helpful because it gets up into the higher, cooler water and saps the energy out of them.”

Only two hurricanes, tropical systems with winds of at least 74 mph, have made direct strikes on Hawaii since 1949, said Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, in his blog.

One of those was Hurricane Iniki, which struck as a Category 4 storm, killing six and causing $2 billion in damage in September 1992, Masters wrote. The other was Dot in 1959. Both made landfall in Kauai.

Near Japan, Typhoon Halong, a Category 1 storm with winds of 86 mph, was moving north 552 miles south of Iwakuni, the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center said.

“It’s already bringing heavy rains to Japan and it’s moving very slowly, so they are going to get a long period of heavy rains through Saturday,” Masters said in a telephone interview. “There could be significant flooding damage in southern Japan.”