Last May, meteorologists with Hawaii’s local National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office predicted that the Central Pacific would see as many as six tropical cyclones during the 2018 hurricane season.

That’s precisely the number of cyclones that formed — and they all reached hurricane status at some point.

The storms included Lane, which nearly laid siege to Oahu’s vulnerable, populous southern shore in August; Olivia, which swept across Maui as a tropical storm and Walaka, whose fierce Category 4 winds and surge wiped one of the primary breeding grounds for Hawaiian green sea turtles off the map in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

For 2019, those NOAA meteorologists predict the region will see another above-normal hurricane season, with five to eight cyclones.

Large waves pound the beach near Outrigger Hotel as Hurricane Lane passes south of Oahu.

Large waves pound the beach near the Outrigger Hotel as Hurricane Lane passed south of Oahu in August. It was one of six cyclones that formed in the Central Pacific last year. For 2019, meteorologists predict as many as eight cyclones will form.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Central Pacific’s waters are warmer than they were last year, and the wind shears that helped spare Oahu from Lane at the last moment will be weaker, they said.

This year’s season officially starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Meteorologists say there’s a 70 percent chance the region will see more than five cyclones.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all of them will threaten Hawaii, or that any will make landfall. The state has been hit directly by a hurricane or tropical storm five times since 1950. Three of those direct hits, however, occurred in the past five years. The islands have sustained severe damage from other storms that came extremely close, including 1982’s Hurricane Iwa and last year’s Lane.

At a briefing Wednesday, with Lane, Olivia and all the other disasters that befell Hawaii last year still fresh in their minds, Gov. David Ige and other officials urged the public to prepare their 14-day emergency kits ahead of this year’s season.

“We always prepare for the worst. It’s time to take action to safeguard our homes against the potential impact of high winds,” Ige said Wednesday.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Tom Travis encouraged residents to keep their gas tanks full. He recommended that residents stock their food, water and other supplies ahead of time to avoid the rushes on retail outlets when storms approach.

“For me, Hurricane Lane was a wake-up call. It showed clearly that the bad one can hit Oahu. Luckily it didn’t last year,” Travis said at the briefing, held at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus.

An Especially Vulnerable Island State

The nation’s lone island state — and one of the most isolated locations on the planet — remains especially vulnerable to a hurricane. It faces enormous challenges in building its resiliency against such natural disasters.

Hawaii relies on a “very fragile yet complex logistics system,” as one state emergency planner described it last year. It operates via a “just-in-time” economy, with hardly any long-term storage for food and other vital supplies.

Much of its key infrastructure — its power plants, electrical grid, water pumping stations and other lifelines — are clustered along Oahu’s southern shore, and a hurricane that passes nearby could cause catastrophic damage, emergency officials warn.

Young Brothers Director of Marine Operations Michael MacDonald uses many different programs, this one shows projected winds by Weather Routing Inc.

Young Brothers Director of Marine Operations Michael MacDonald used weather data to plot the company’s fleet deployment away from the islands ahead of Hurricane Lane in August.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Furthermore, thousands of the state’s aging homes, many of them built with single-wall construction, are ill-equipped to withstand a hurricane as strong as Category 2. The state has a shortage of emergency shelter space for people to use outside of their homes, and it’s not clear how those shelters would fare in a hurricane.

That led most of the officials who spoke at Wednesday’s briefing to recommend that residents do what they can to better prepare their homes and families, not only assembling two-week emergency kits but also retrofitting their homes with hurricane straps.

Still, such steps can cost hundreds of dollars in a state that boasts some of the nation’s most expensive cost of living. One virtually cost-free approach to start, at least, would be to fill spare water from the tap in a container and store it in a dark place, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell recommended after the briefing.

‘Hope Is Not A Plan’

The 2019 Central Pacific hurricane season starts with another El Niño event in full-swing, albeit a weakened one.

During El Niño seasons, which typically happen every four to six years, warm waters fuel more hurricanes. During La Niña seasons, when waters are cooler, fewer hurricanes form.

“There is plenty of warm water out there. Both around Hawaii … and also on the equator,” said Christopher Brenchley, director of NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center. The season will also feature less of the wind shear that typically staves off tropical cyclones, Brenchley added.

The last El Niño, around 2015, was particularly strong and generated 16 tropical cyclones in the region that year.

The Central Pacific, which includes Hawaii, has seen nearly five tropical cyclones per year in the past five decades. It typically sees more in El Nino seasons.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As climate change intensifies and warmer ocean temperatures creep north, climatologists estimate Hawaii could see the number of tropical storms and hurricanes that either pass nearby or make landfall increase by 15 percent each decade. That’s if the world’s carbon emissions rate remains the same.

John Bravender, NOAA’s Hawaii-based warning coordination meteorologist, said he believes 2018’s storms spurred a new appreciation by many local residents of the risks posed by hurricanes.

“When you look back at all the damage that we had last year, days of record rainfall and flooding from an offshore hurricane, wind damage and flash-flooding from a weakening tropical storm … people saw all this damage from events and still realized we were lucky in how those panned out and could’ve been much worse,” Bravender said Tuesday.

“Eventually our luck will run out. Will that be this year? I certainly hope not. But as a wise man once said, ‘Hope is not a plan.’”

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