Federal hurricane forecasters are predicting a near- to below-normal hurricane season this year, with two to five tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific Basin.

That’s largely due to regional sea surface temperatures that are expected to remain cooler than normal during the annual June-to-November season, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday during their annual outlook briefing.

The forecast does not make any predictions of whether those storms, which can range in force from a tropical depression to a hurricane, will actually make landfall in the Hawaiian islands.

Hurricane Douglas threatened to make landfall in Hawaii last year but eventually missed the islands by a few dozen miles. Courtesy: NWS/2020

Only two such storms appeared in the Central Pacific last year. One of them, Hurricane Douglas, in July came within 30 miles of the islands in a season where local communities were even more vulnerable to a natural disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was not an active season, but all it took was one,” said Christopher Brenchley, who directs the National Weather Service’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “We were lucky.”

NOAA forecast that the region would see two to six tropical cyclones in 2020. Normally, the Central Pacific sees four to five cyclones in a year, although that number can fluctuate significantly.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Luke Meyers said local emergency preparedness officials anticipate far more visitors will be in the islands this summer compared to last year thanks to widespread COVID-19 vaccinations and the easing of travel restrictions.

Dennis Hwang of the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant College Program noted that the islands’ public emergency shelters should only be used in case of last resort. Public school buildings generally make up that shelter space, and state officials have found that most of them would withstand a tropical storm but not a hurricane.

Hwang and federal officials urged local residents to check on and replenish their 14-day hurricane supply kits ahead of this year’s season, which starts June 1. Hwang has helped lead efforts to retrofit some 6,000 homes on Oahu to better withstand at least a Category 1 or 2 hurricane in the past decade. An estimated 40,000 older homes remain to be retrofitted across the island, he said Wednesday.

For more details on how to prepare for a hurricane, residents can download Sea Grant’s free Homeowner’s Handbook or visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website at ready.gov/hawaii.

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