Residents and visitors on Hawaii should prepare for the possible arrival of a major hurricane next week which could compound problems created by record-breaking flooding on Kauai earlier this year and the ongoing Kilauea eruption on the Big Island’s Lower East Rift Zone. Hurricane Hector now has maximum sustained winds of 110mph and it is forecast to further strengthen to Major Hurricane status soon. While the future track of the hurricane isn’t etched in stone, people in Hawaii should use the calm before the storm to make sure they are properly prepared for any tropical cyclone threat that can occur this hurricane season.
Hector is strong and getting stronger. In the last official advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, maximum sustained winds have risen to near 110 mph with higher gusts. Based on the latest advisory, Hector is likely to become a major hurricane tonight or tomorrow, with further intensification possible over the next few days. The National Hurricane Center describes Hector as a small tropical cyclone for now; hurricane-force winds extend
outward up to 15 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles. The latest estimated minimum central pressure is 973 mb (28.74 inches).
Global forecast model guidance today brings the hurricane closer to Hawaii than previous model runs, with the American GFS suggesting a direct hit and the European ECMWF suggesting a glancing blow. Either way, heavy wind-driven rains could be possible later next week, with Hawaii’s Big Island seeing the brunt of it. However, it is still too early to say with certainty where the storm will go and whether or not Hawaii will be in its path.
Some are concerned what impact a landfalling hurricane can have on an active volcano. USGS’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists tell us the intensity of the eruption is so great that weather won’t impact it. However, heavy rain pouring onto the lava flow field can create unique problems. Hawaii Volcano Observatory geologist Janet Babb tells us that heavy rain on the flow field could create white-out conditions with zero visibilities as the hot lava vaporizes the rainfall into a dense steam cloud. Babb tells us that such zero-visibility would occur in the existing hazard area where people should not be anyway.
HVO geochemist Tamar Elias described to us how the steam rising from the lava flow is more dangerous than the steam you’d find in your bathroom shower. “There is a difference between the steam produced in your shower and the steam produced from a heavy rain event interacting with molten lava on the flow field. The steam generated on the lava flow field will be very acidic – and the hot acidic steam, would be more hazardous than the steam from your shower.” Elias added, “In low wind conditions, the steam could accumulate adjacent to the lava flows, which is the area of highest hazard. Heeding the Civil Defense warnings and closures is especially important if heavy rain is interacting with molten lava on the flow field. The impact of an acid steam plume is local in nature – since as soon as the plume moves away from the lava flow, it cools down. The primary impacts to more distant communities is from the volcanic emissions themselves.” Beyond the acidic steam, acid rain is also a concern Elias tells us. “Acid rain can also be generated when rain falls through the acidic gas and particle plume generated by the eruption.”
According to the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, “Acid rain can damage plants and accelerate the rusting of metal surfaces on buildings, vehicles, farm equipment and infrastructure, and cellphone towers. Acid rain is likely to kill fish in open air ponds so covering ponds is advised. Acid rain can also irritate the skin and eyes or cause a stinging sensation. Rinsing the skin and eyes with clean water can help.”
Beyond preparations people would normally take ahead of a tropical cyclone’s arrival, residents in and near the Lower East Rift Zone should take extra precautions and make extra preparations should the acid steam or acid rain impact their area.
The volcanic eruption in Hawaii has claimed more than 700 homes, displacing thousands of residents. Some of those residents are living in tents and automobiles, neither of which could be safe if a landfalling tropical cyclone were to hit. People in temporary housing or those that know of people that are, should use the time before the storm’s arrival to identify a safe shelter to stay in should storm conditions materialize.
Anyone in Hawaii should make sure they have a Hurricane Action Plan in place. It may become necessary to act on that plan in the coming days