Preparedness

Scary Hurricane Season Matched Activity Record in the Central Pacific

One of them was a Category 5 monster known as Hurricane Lane, the scariest hurricane facing Honolulu in decades. But after dumping more than 4 feet of rain on the east side of Hawaii island, the storm slowed, weakened and largely bypassed Oahu.

by Timothy Hurley, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / November 29, 2018
People, who declined to be named, fill up sand bags that will be used to help protect their home in preparation for Hurricane Lane, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, along Ewa Beach in Honolulu. AP/John Locher

(TNS) The 2018 Central Pacific hurricane season will end Friday much like it started — with a couple of months of smooth sailing and no tropical cyclones on the horizon.

It was the middle part that got rather dicey. The Central Pacific experienced six powerful tropical cyclones over a two-month period from August to the beginning of October, making it one of the most active seasons on record for the ocean basin between 140 and 180 degrees west.

During a five-week stretch, the islands seemed to be under constant threat from hurricanes rolling in from the Eastern Pacific.

One of them was a Category 5 monster known as Hurricane Lane, the scariest hurricane facing Honolulu in decades. But after dumping more than 4 feet of rain on the east side of Hawaii island, the storm slowed, weakened and largely bypassed Oahu.

A few weeks later, Olivia entered the Central Pacific as a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall on Maui and Lanai as a tropical storm, the first tropical cyclone to hit those islands in the modern era. All six of the Central Pacific cyclones this season reached hurricane strength, the second most since reliable record keeping began in 1971. Four of the cyclones were major hurricanes with sustained winds exceeding 120 mph. Two of those reached Category 5 strength, with sustained winds of 160 mph.

Only the strong El Nino year of 2015 saw more hurricanes in the Central Pacific — eight of the season’s 15 cyclones, including tropical storms and tropical depressions.

It was that same year that saw a record-setting season for accumulated cyclone energy, a measurement of cyclone activity used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The total ACE, as it is called, reached 115 — a number that was matched this season.

Hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University said this year’s Central Pacific hurricane season was generally characterized by below-normal wind shear and above-normal sea surface temperatures, conditions that allow for an active season.

“It was one of the most active seasons on record for that part of the (Pacific) basin,” Klotzbach said.

The action began in early August when Category 4 Hurricane Hector churned by the islands a couple hundred miles south of Hawaii island.

Next came Lane on a similar path, only farther south. Instead of moving past the islands like Hector, Lane turned north in a move reminiscent of 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, which slammed into Kauai.

Lane reached its peak intensity of 160 mph on Aug. 21, when it was due south of the Big Island and its National Weather Service cone of uncertainty fully encompassed Oahu.

State and local officials in Honolulu urged the public to undertake hurricane preparations like never before, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency even held a news conference in Washington, D.C., to describe its plan for Hawaii disaster support.

The storm traveled up the island chain and slowed to a crawl, spinning off strong winds and heavy rain. Hilo endured major flooding, and rain gauges in Mountain View recorded 51.53 inches, the third-highest U.S. rainfall total from a tropical cyclone since 1950, according to a National Weather Service preliminary report.

As Lane continued to creep closer to Oahu, high-level wind shear chipped away at the storm, and it withered from Category 4 to Category 1 in about a day’s time.

“It was pretty impressive that it weakened that quickly,” National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Foster said.

Lane was still a Category 1 hurricane at its closest point to Honolulu (110 miles) before lower-level winds pushed it west and away from the islands.

But not before strong gusts fueled a brush fire on Maui, destroying 22 homes near Lahaina. Lingering rain bands from Lane also pounded Kauai, leading to the death of a 30-year-old man who jumped into a swollen stream to save a dog.

Lane was only the second Category 5 hurricane to pass within 250 miles of Hawaii, with the last being Hurricane John in 1994, according to NOAA. Formerly a major hurricane, Olivia came onshore Sept. 12 as a 45-mph tropical storm just north of rural Kahakuloa on Maui’s windward coast. Forty-four minutes later, the storm made a second landfall on the northeast coast of Lanai about 6 miles north-northeast of Lanai City.

Heavy rain led to rising waters and evacuations of homes on both sides of the West Maui Mountains, and all of the islands experienced destructive wind gusts and rain, leading to dozens of power outages, uprooted trees, closed roads, mudslides, rockfalls and raging streams.

Hurricane Walaka, which formed in the Central Pacific on Sept. 29, more than 1,000 miles south of the islands, grew into a Category 5 storm with 160 mph sustained winds. But its path took it well to the west of the main Hawaiian islands. It did threaten Johnston Atoll, prompting the evacuation of a team of scientists working there.

Walaka would be the season’s last hurrah despite warnings about a developing El Nino weather pattern and potential for more cyclone development.

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