Odds that Douglas, a developing storm in the eastern Pacific, will make its way to Hawaii’s Big Island are increasing. The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center brings the eye of the storm directly over Hawaii Island on Sunday, eventually tracking the storm south of the rest of the Aloha State island chain. If this forecast path keeps up, Tropical Storm and/or Hurricane Watches and Warnings may be required later this week.
In the latest advisory issued from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida at 5am HT / 11am ET today, Hurricane Douglas was located roughly 1,785 miles east south east of Hilo, Hawaii and had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph; current estimated minimum central pressure is 993 MB or 29.33″. The storm is moving due west now at 15 miles per hour. The center of Hurricane Douglas was
located near latitude 11.8 North, longitude 129.5 West.
The National Hurricane Center expects Hurricane Douglas to strengthen further over the next few days. While some computer model guidance suggests Douglas will reach Category 3 status, most believe it’ll max-out at a strong Category 1 or moderate Category 2 status storm. Because Douglas will need to pass over cooler waters on its way to Hawaii, it is expected to weaken before it gets there.
The National Hurricane Center’s official track brings Douglas directly over Hawaii’s Big Island, bringing the center of circulation over the Puna District of eastern Hawaii across the island to Kona. Most computer forecast model tracks are in remarkable agreement that this is the path it’ll take, boosting confidence in meteorologists’ forecast assessment.
The current forecast brings Douglas onto land on Hawaii as a strong Tropical Storm. In 2014, Tropical Storm Iselle took a similar path as what is forecast with Douglas; Iselle was exceptionally destructive, creating $146 million in damage to the island. When Iselle made landfall on the Big Island with winds of 60 mph , it became the strongest tropical cyclone on record to hit the island, and one of only three storms to hit the island at tropical storm intensity or higher, along with Tropical Storm Seven in 1958, and Tropical Storm Darby in 2016. Right now, Douglas is forecast to be as strong if not stronger than Iselle when it strikes Hawaii.
Unlike traditional tropical cyclone landfalls on the United States East and Gulf Coasts, land-falling storms on Hawaii need to deal with two massive volcanic mountains: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Each of these volcanic mountains rise up more than 13,000 feet above sea level, high enough to severely disrupt the flow of tropical cyclones as they approach the island. These mountains will help “shred” the storm as it moves over them, ringing out atmospheric moisture on the east side of the island. It is possible portions of western Hawaii will feature mostly sunny skies while eastern Hawaii could see a foot or more of rain. Depending on the exact track, powerful winds could also be funneled across the island between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, an area known on the island as the “Saddle.” If this occurs, winds on portions of Hawaii Island’s west coast, such as Waikoloa, Puako, and Kawaihae could be just as severe, if not more severe, than those on the East Coast. Because a shift in path of just a few miles can alter these winds and rain areas significantly, it’ll be necessary for the entire island to brace for the full wrath of the storm even if in the end, only some portions of the island will see bad impacts.
For now, hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles from the
center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles. Over time, Douglas is expected to increase in size as it moves west closer to Hawaii.
Governor David Ige urged Hawaii residents to get prepared in an afternoon press conference yesterday. Because of Hawaii’s remote location, it’s imperative that people stock-up on 14 days worth of food, water, supplies, and medicine should power be cut and supply chains disrupted for a significant period of time. With the COVID-19 Pandemic underway, it’s also important that people in Hawaii stay virus-aware, maintain social distancing standards, even in storm shelters, and have hand sanitizer, wipes, and masks on-hand for the disaster.