WATCH: Hawaii is preparing for what could be the first hurricanes to hit the state in more than 20 years. Paul Johnson reports.
HONOLULU – Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn’t – and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years. Tracking close behind it was Hurricane Julio, which strengthened early Thursday into a Category 2 storm.
State officials are assuring the islands are ready and people should prepare but not panic.
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Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island on Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to 85 mph (135 kph) and flooding in some areas. Weather officials changed their outlook on the system Wednesday after seeing it get a little stronger, giving it enough oomph to stay a hurricane as it reaches landfall.
“What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength,” said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Cantin said that means stronger winds of up to 110 km/h, though rainfall estimates of up to 20 cm in a short time frame remained unchanged.
The path of Hurricane Iselle takes the storm directly over the island of Hawaii, while Julio is expected to track slightly north.
“Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around,” he said.
Iselle loomed about 400 miles (645 kilometres) east of Hilo early Thursday, with sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph) and travelling about 18 mph (30 kph).
Cantin said the Big Island’s size and terrain would help break up the hurricane, weakening it into a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.
“The volcanoes on the Big Island will do a number on the system,” he said.
Hurricane Julio, meanwhile, swirled closely behind with maximum winds whipping at 100 mph (160 kph). The National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to strengthen even more Thursday before gradually weakening by Thursday night. That weakening is expected to continue into the weekend.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, said meteorologist Eric Lau.
The two hurricanes have disrupted tourism, prompted flash flood warnings and led to school closures. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, meanwhile, signed an emergency proclamation allowing officials to tap into a disaster fund set aside by the state Legislature.
–Associated Press Writers Doug Esser in Seattle and Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.