For the first time in over two years, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center has given a tropical cyclone a name from a rarely used list of Hawaiian names for the basin. As of the last 11am advisory from the CPHC, Tropical Storm Walaka is gaining strength and is forecast to become a hurricane south of the main Hawaiian islands.
Based on the last advisory, the center of Tropical Storm Walaka was located near latitude 11.5 North, longitude 159.1 West, which puts it 680 miles south of Honolulu. Walaka is moving toward the west near 15 mph. According to the CPHC, this motion is expected to continue through tomorrow, followed by a turn toward the northwest Sunday night and Monday and a turn toward the north early Tuesday. On such a path, Walaka should miss the main Hawaiian Islands. Maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph with higher gusts; the CPHC is forecasting some strengthening during the next 48 hours. Steady strengthening is expected for the next two to three days at which point Walaka should become a hurricane, if not a major hurricane. Tropical-storm-force winds currently extend outward up to 45 miles from the center. The estimated minimum central pressure is 1005 mb or 29.68 inches.
The list of names used for tropical storms and hurricanes are maintained by the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization. Currently, only tropical cyclones are named in an official capacity; winter storms are not. The World Meteorological Organization from the United Nations develops a list of names for each ocean basin. In the United States, the National Hurricane Center maintains lists from the WMO for Atlantic Basin and eastern Pacific basin storms. Storms that form near Hawaii come from a list managed by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center which is co-located with the National Weather Service office in Honolulu. Storms are typically named in alphabetical order each season. “It is important to note that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence,” states the WMO. “The tropical cyclone/hurricane names selected are those that are familiar to the people in each region.”
The name Walaka is coming from a list different then other storms that have had direct or indirect impacts on Hawaii this season. The previous storms to pass near or through Hawaii, which were Hector, Lane, and Olivia, all formed in the Eastern Pacific basin and traveled into the Central Pacific Basin. In the case of this storm, it is forming within the Central Pacific basin west of 140°W, which means it would get a Central Pacific Basin storm name. Storms keep their name as they move from one basin to another. Unlike lists in other basins that start with the letter “A” every season, the storm name list in the Central Basin picks up where it last left off. Names are used from 4 lists and re-used unless retired. The last storm to form in the Central Pacific basin was Ulika; the next name to be used beyond Walaka will be Akoni.
It’s been more than two years since a storm was named in the Central Pacific Basin. On September 26, 2016, the National Hurricane Center classified a disturbance in the Eastern Pacific as Tropical Depression 19-E; within hours, it traveled west across 140°W , intensified, and was named Tropical Storm Ulika. The storm eventually became a Category 1 hurricane but never impacted land.
In Hawaiian, Walaka means “ruler of the army.” Some labeled Hawaiian King Kamehameha in the late 18th century / early 19th century as Walaka.