A powerful hurricane is spinning east of Hawaii this week, heading almost due west. Forecasters expect Hurricane Hector, which was nearly a Category 5 on Monday, to stay south of Hawaii, though they note that even slight changes in the forecast track could lead to a very different outcome for the island chain.
Hurricane Hector, which had winds up to 155 mph on Monday morning, looks like it will stay south of all the islands, but it’s worth watching how this storm evolves over the next several days. Two factors should keep Hector’s impact on Hawaii minimal — relatively cool ocean temperatures and high pressure building over the North Pacific.
Sea surface temperature is only marginally warm enough for Hector to strengthen, or even maintain its intensity. And the storm will continue to churn across the less-than-ideal waters through Wednesday, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center predicts.
The force that will ultimately keep Hector south of Hawaii will be a ridge of high pressure to the north. As that ridge strengthens, its counterclockwise flow will steer the storm farther to the west and away from the islands.
Even though the forecast looks promising through the end of the week, “only a slight deviation to the north of the forecast track would significantly increase potential impacts to the state of Hawaii,” the Central Pacific Hurricane Center wrote Monday morning.
A hurricane hasn’t made landfall in Hawaii since 1992, when Iniki ravaged Kaua’i. That Category 4 hurricane generated an enormous storm surge that left water marks as high as 22 feet on the island, according to NOAA. The 145-mph wind stripped leaves and branches from trees. NOAA’s damage survey team found “few buildings” that avoided impact. Iniki is still the most destructive hurricane to hit Hawaii since the beginning of the 20th century.
Despite being in the riskiest location, the Big Island has not been struck by a hurricane since modern records have been kept. A hurricane in 1871 likely made landfall on Hawaii, north of Hilo. After that, only weaker systems — tropical depressions and storms — have hit the Big Island, although there have been several close calls.
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