By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Tropical Storm Flossie was expected to make landfall along the Hamakua Coast around 6 a.m. today, bringing with it high winds, heavy surf, and torrential rains.
Weather officials said Sunday they expected the storm to weaken as it slowly moved westward toward Hawaii, but said that it would still pack a punch, with winds gusting up to 60 mph, waves building to between 12 and 18 feet high, and rainfall amounting to between 6 and 10 inches, and even up to 15 inches in some areas.
The National Weather Service said the storm could cause flash flooding in low-lying areas, as well as mudslides, tornadoes and waterspouts. Leading up to the arrival of the storm, the weather service had issued tropical storm warnings for Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island. A tropical storm warning means that the storm could be a threat to life and property.
The warnings spread from just covering Maui and Hawaii counties after the storm picked up additional strength on Saturday night. The service also issued a tropical storm watch for Kauai and Niihau, a less severe notice, asking people to make a plan and pay attention to see if things get worse.
East Hawaii and Maui County were expected to bear the brunt of the storm, officials said, with gusts of wind possibly knocking down power line poles and blowing away loose objects.
“These winds will be strong enough to pick up debris and things, and throw them around,” said Michael Cantin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
As for how quickly the storm will dissipate as it continues to move westward, Cantin said that could be harder to predict.
“Really, the way it’s coming into the Big Island is unprecedented. We haven’t really seen this before,” he said.
Usually, tropical storms will approach from the south, and in the past they have often slipped by the Big Isle.
On Sunday, Hawaii County Civil Defense workers were busy surveying the situation and working to get the word out about the storm to prepare area residents for the worst.
“We are preparing for the worst impacts, with surf, rain and flooding,” said Daryl Oliveira, county director of Civil Defense.
Following a briefing from weather officials around 1 p.m., Civil Defense announced it would be opening a number of shelter locations at 4 a.m. Monday to handle residents whose homes may be impacted by the high winds or flooding. Those shelters include:
• Pahoa Community Center;
• Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale;
• Laupahoehoe Charter School;
• Honokaa Gym;
• Waimea Community Center;
• and, Hisooka Gym.
Oliveira said that residents who decide to go to a shelter should bring food, water and medications with them.
“People going to shelters need to be prepared because there won’t be much in the form of supplies,” he said. “Medications, food and water. They should bring as much as possible. Those that aren’t going to shelters should also be preparing for the impacts over the next 24 hours. The should have plans in place, and we’ll be hoping for the best possible outcome.”
Oliveira added that East Hawaii could see less accumulation of surface water than it has seen in similar storms in the past, due to the fact that the weather has been dry lately.
“We’re hoping the storm surge, in areas like Bayfront, won’t see as much surge as we’ve seen in the past. Usually with a combo of heavy rain and stormsurge, you have all this water trying to get into the ocean, and that creates a blockade that backs up into the streets,” he said. “But based on what the weather service is saying, we’re optimistic we may not see as much surge. There hasn’t been a lot of pre-storm rain to saturate the ground beforehand, so it may allow more water to filter through.”
Meanwhile, other agencies were prepping for Flossie as well. The Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Saturday evening that it would be closing the Waimanu trail and campground, the Pololu trail, and the Ainapo trail and cabin effective immediately.
“The DLNR is also advising the public to avoid entering forest areas on all islands, starting on Monday as tropical storm Flossie arrives in the Hawaiian islands. Forecasts of sustained high winds of 35 miles an hour or more, as well as heavy rain can make for hazardous road and trail conditions,” reads a release from the DLNR.
HELCO had set up an emergency operations center by Sunday evening, Oliveira said, and crews were ready to respond as needed in the event of downed power lines.
Mike McCartney, chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said Sunday afternoon that some airlines have begun to adjust flights.
“Visitors should contact their airlines and hotels to confirm their travel plans,” he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear which island faces the most danger, though the Big Island was set to be the first in Flossie’s path. Flossie’s center was expected to pass near the Big Island and Maui on Monday morning and then south of Oahu several hours later on Monday evening into Tuesday morning.
Cantin said Flossie could stray from its currently projected path up to 60 miles north or south as it crosses the Hawaiian islands and end up some 100 miles away from where forecasters project it to be by the time it passes.
Cantin said the storm is likely to shift south if it gets weaker and north if it gets stronger.
The storm could drop up to 15 inches of rain to windward areas of Maui and Hawaii counties, and 6 to 10 inches in other areas, forecasters said. Up to a foot of rain could fall on windward Oahu and 4 to 8 inches in central and leeward areas. Kauai may see 2 to 4 inches of rain, with up to 6 inches on windward slopes.
Waves of 12 to 18 feet are expected for the Big Island and Maui, with surf of 10 to 15 feet on other islands.
Despite the system weakening, the current forecast keeps Flossie as a tropical storm through Wednesday.
Hilo-area residents seemed to be taking the weather predictions in stride Sunday afternoon.
John Rahn was buying some food at Safeway, but said he hadn’t really been prompted to do so because of the storm.
“It’s just weather,” he said. “I’m from North Dakota, and we’ve got tornadoes and winter storms that are much worse. They’ll go on for hours and even days, unlike this (Flossie), which will be over pretty quickly.”
Abel Medina said he didn’t have any big plans to ride out the storm, as he was going to be putting he and his wife’s safety in God’s hands.
“We’re just going to let it come on. My son in Texas called and asked me ‘Dad, are you prepared for the storm?’ I said we’re going to stay inside, not go out on the roads, and we’re just going to let it come. It’s God’s will it’s coming, and God will protect us,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.