Iselle: first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years
Tropical storm Iselle swept ashore Hawaii in the first of a one-two punch of stormy tropical weather for the state. Tropical storm Iselle is the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years.
The first storm in a one-two punch heading for Hawaii clamored ashore in the overnight hours Friday as a weakened tropical storm, while a second system close behind it strengthened and was on track to pass north of the islands sometime Sunday morning.
Tropical Storm Iselle's eye swept onto shore about 5 miles east of Pahala with winds at 60 mph at 2:30 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time. Iselle is the first tropical storm to hit the state in 22 years, and Hurricane Julio, a Category 3 storm, is about 1,000 miles behind in the Pacific.
No deaths or major injuries were reported. So far the extent of damage across the Big Island has been limited to downed trees and some roof damage, John Drummond of Hawaii County Civil Defense said. At one point there were 33,000 homes without power. The latest number is at 21,000, Drummond said.
The storm is expected to inundate Hawaii with 5 to 8 inches of rain, with up to a foot of rain in some spots.
Maui County spokesman Ryan Piros said outside it was raining and the wind was cranking, but in the overnight hours he was listening to a largely quiet police scanner.
Iselle was classified as a tropical storm 11 p.m. HST Thursday, about 50 miles from shore. By early Friday morning its winds had slowed to 60 mph, well below the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane.
The storm was weakening because of several factors, including wind shear chopping at the system and the Big Island's terrain above the water, said Chris Brenchley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
"As wind blows into the terrain, the terrain kind of redirects the wind," he said.
Iselle was expected to pass overnight across the Big Island and then send rain and high winds to the rest of the state Friday. A flash-flood warning was in place for the island.
The storm's predicted track had it skirting just south of the other islands, starting with Maui.
Even before its center touched land, Tropical Storm Iselle knocked out power on parts of the Big Island, one of the least populated islands.
"Whoop, there goes the power," 29-year-old Andrew Fujimura of Puna said as he spoke with an Associated Press reporter Thursday night. "It's fine. We'll just go to bed early tonight, I guess."
Fujimura was trading videos with a friend in Maui to help the friend see what weather conditions to expect. The videos show loud winds blowing through palm trees, white foamy waves chopping high onto shoreline shrubs and rocks — even a surfer riding rolling waves with an overcast sky on the Big Island's eastern shore.
Waves were breaking about 15 feet to 20 feet, Fujimura said.
"I can't say I'm too worried," he said. "Worst-case scenario, the power may go out a day or two. But we're prepared for that kind of stuff out here."
Hundreds of people flowed into emergency shelters set up at high schools, one of which lost power. Crews worked to restore electricity to the shelter in Pahoa with at least 140 people.
On Maui, power to a water treatment plant went out, prompting county officials to ask Kula residents in the middle of the island to conserve water.
People prepared for the storm by making last-minute trips to the store and boarding up windows at their homes.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950. The last time Hawaii was hit with a hurricane or tropical storm was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, Lau said.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the state is prepared for the back-to-back storms, noting the National Guard is at the ready and state and local governments were closing offices, schools and transit services across Hawaii.
"What we're asking the people to do now is pay attention, stay focused and listen to the directions," he said.
Abercrombie said President Barack Obama had been briefed on Iselle by federal emergency management officials.
State Attorney General David Louie promised that Saturday's primary elections, including congressional and gubernatorial races, will go forward as planned.
As residents prepared for the possible one-two punch, a 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Big Island but didn't cause major damage or injuries.
Travelers faced disrupted plans when at least 50 flights were canceled Thursday from several airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, Delta, United, Air China and WestJet, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and airlines said. Some waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who needed to alter their plans Thursday and Friday.
Other attractions also announced plans to stay closed for all or part of Friday, including the Royal Hawaiian Center mall in Waikiki and the Polynesian Cultural Center near Oahu's north shore.
After high winds hit Maui, California couple Rudy Cruz and Ashley Dochnahl left the island earlier than planned, getting to Oahu but failing to secure a flight back home. "We were trying to beat it, but we now will have to ride it out," Cruz said.
The storms are rare but not unexpected in El Nino years, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical storms this year.