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Hawaii braces for its 2nd Category 5 hurricane in recorded history

Almost never affected by hurricanes, Hawaii prepares for Hurricane Lane.

Ocean front condominums and luxury homes are built at the ocean's edge on an old Mauna Loa lava flow as viewed on December 16, 2016, in this aerial photo taken along the Kona Kohala Coast, Hawaii. CREDIT: George Rose/Getty Images
Ocean front condominums and luxury homes are built at the ocean's edge on an old Mauna Loa lava flow as viewed on December 16, 2016, in this aerial photo taken along the Kona Kohala Coast, Hawaii. CREDIT: George Rose/Getty Images

Hawaii rarely sees hurricanes make landfall but that may be set to change later this week, as a Category 5 hurricane barrels towards the most far-flung U.S. state.

Hurricane Lane was 480 miles southeast of Honolulu as of Wednesday morning, according to CNN, and is projected to make landfall around Thursday. Experts say the storm will likely weaken by the time it hits Hawaii, but the event will still mark an incredibly rare occurrence. Lane will only be the second Category 5 hurricane to come within 350 miles of Hawaii throughout the course of recorded history.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a hurricane warning for the island of Hawaii — or, the Big Island — and a hurricane watch for both Oahu island, home to Honolulu, and Maui County, which contains the islands of Maui, Lanai, and part of Molokai, as well as the uninhabited islands of Kahoolawe and Molokini.

According to NWS, the “center of Lane will move very close to or over the main Hawaiian Islands from Thursday through Saturday.” The storm is currently powered by sustained wind speeds of 160 miles per hour.

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“Lane is forecast to remain a dangerous hurricane as it draws closer to the Hawaiian Islands,” NWS cautioned, advising residents to take precautions.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” NWS emphasized.

Unlike the Atlantic, which routinely slashes the eastern United States with vicious storms, the Central Pacific typically avoids severe storms. Hawaii also represents a relatively tiny space within the Pacific Ocean, making it an incredibly rare target. Since 1959, only four named storms have made landfall in Hawaii — two hurricanes and two tropical storms.

In August, Hurricane Hector became a Category 4 storm headed for Hawaii, but it ultimately failed to make landfall. While some residents have argued Lane could do the same, officials aren’t taking any chances.

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Gov. David Ige (D) signed an emergency proclamation on Tuesday accounting for relief following any disaster damages or losses suffered in Lane’s aftermath.

“Hurricane Lane is not a well-behaved hurricane,” Ige said. “I’ve not seen such dramatic changes in the forecast track as I’ve seen with this storm. I urge our residents and visitors to take this threat seriously and prepare for a significant impact.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell similarly advised residents to take precautions.

“Some people might say, ‘Another hurricane, it didn’t hit us last time, we don’t need to worry.’ No, we got to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” the mayor said Monday.

Along with countries across the world, the United States has suffered multiple natural disasters this summer, with extreme flooding in some areas and wildfires raging across the West. No one singular event can be connected to rising global temperatures, but scientists have noted patterns and linked the uptick in these natural disasters to human-driven climate change.

While Hawaii rarely experiences hurricanes at present, states like Texas and Florida — along with vulnerable islands like Puerto Rico — are increasingly facing stronger and more devastating storms than they have historically. The 2017 hurricane season was unusually active and among the most devastating the country has seen in years. That pattern has yet to repeat itself this year, but Hurricane Lane could be a turning point.

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Hawaii has dealt with other environmental crises this summer, with Mount Kilauea producing lava flows from early May into this month. The volcano appears to have paused activity since August 9, offering some relief to Big Island residents.