Weather forecasters said this week that a below-average total of two to three hurricanes are likely to pass through Central Pacific waters this year as ocean surface temperatures cool.
But only one hurricane needs to hit land to cause damage, said Jim Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “That’s the one we need to prepare for.”
Last year was an El Nino year, when warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures generated an above-average number of seven tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific, which includes the Hawaiian island chain.
None of the storms made landfall last year. One, Hurricane Neki, passed near French Frigate Shoals in the sparsely populated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after it weakened to a tropical storm.
This year, Weyman said forecasters expect surface temperatures to return to normal or for La Nina conditions to form. Those conditions generate cooler-than-normal ocean surface temperatures.
The region sees about four to five hurricanes during an average year.
An exercise conducted last year predicted a Category 4 hurricane making landfall at Kapolei would shut down Oahu’s power grid for 30 days, flood a freeway running through the middle of Honolulu and heavily damage 70 percent of the island’s homes.
A Hawaii hurricane response plan obtained by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, predicted that a Category 4 hurricane coming ashore in southern Oahu would trigger flooding that would generate more than 200,000 tons of debris in Pearl Harbor and Waikiki.
A Category 4 hurricane is a storm with sustained winds over 130 mph.
Gov. Linda Lingle urged residents to prepare ahead of time because the government won’t be able to help everyone in the immediate aftermath of a major storm.
She said officials would have to focus their response on those needing the most help — such as those in hospitals — and therefore, residents would have to care for themselves.
“The burden is on you for your own family,” Lingle said. “You need to spend as much time and effort protecting your family, your children, as you do in their day-to-day life.”
Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense, urged families and businesses to put together an emergency supply kit with enough food, water and prescription medicines to last three to seven days. They should also find the location of their neighborhood’s public emergency shelter.
He urged people to study their homes and surroundings so they’ll know what outdoor furniture they’ll need to tie down or what trees they’ll need to trim to prepare.
“You just got to have a plan. When a storm picks up and comes close — we’ll be luckily if we have two to three days,” to get ready, Teixeira said. “There’s so much to do.”